Managing Chronic Conditions Pays Off, Research Suggests

Many workers discover chronic heart conditions through their wellness programs

By Stephen Miller, CEBS Mar 7, 2016
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Over 85 million Americans are living with some form of cardiovascular disease, says the American Heart Association, and wellness programs have the potential to help them, a new study indicates. Other research findings highlight the value of focusing wellness initiatives on chronic condition management, specifically for controlling diabetes.

Heart Conditions Revealed and Managed

A January 2016 survey of 501 enrollees in a 2015 health plan who either had been diagnosed with heart disease or were deemed at high risk for developing heart disease found that:

  • 38 percent were enrolled in a wellness program.
  • 43 percent of those individuals said they discovered their heart condition or high risk through their wellness program.

The survey, by Dallas-based health care tech firm HealthMine, also found that among those with heart disease or deemed at high risk for developing heart disease:

  • 68 percent of respondents who enrolled in wellness programs also had access to a chronic-disease management program.
  • 86 percent of those with access participated in their disease management program.
  • 79 percent said their program helps them to manage their health care costs.
  • 61 percent said they have their condition “completely under control.”

Nevertheless, 51 percent said their condition lowers their productivity at work, and 46 percent have lost measurable workdays due to their heart condition or high risk level.

“Heart disease strikes someone in the U.S. once about every 43 seconds. But we have the power to lessen the impact,” said Bryce Williams, HealthMine’s CEO and president. “Through personal clinical engagement, we can help people find out sooner, learn what they need to do and motivate them to do it.”

Direct and indirect costs of cardiovascular diseases and stroke total more than $320.1 billion in the U.S. annually, taking into account health expenditures and lost productivity, according to the American Heart Association’s 2015 Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics Update.

Going Mobile

Overall, HealthMine found that 31 percent of those with a heart condition/high risk were using some type of mobile health tool to manage their health.

31% of heart patients use mobile health tools to manage their condition:

Mobile Tool

Percent Using to Manage Condition

Activity/fitness tracking device or app

50%

Blood pressure app

48%

Heart rate app

47%

Food/nutrition app

38%

Source: HealthMine


As for the 69 percent of those with heart problems who aren't using mobile health tools to manage their condition/risk:

  • 36 percent said they prefer “traditional” methods to manage their health.
  • 34 percent said they don't know which device/app to use.
  • 20 percent said they don't own a mobile device.
  • 15 percent find mobile health tools too confusing.

“Being connected to your health data can make a difference,” said Williams. “Millions of wearable fitness tracking devices will be incorporated into wellness programs over the next few years. But they need to tie into a larger, clinically based strategy to help consumers know where they stand with their health, learn what they need to do and stay motivated to do it.”

Diabetes Prevented and Controlled

Separately, a study by Indiana University School of Medicine researchers, published online in the American Journal of Public Health, found that adults with prediabetes who followed a nationally available weight management program with a prediabetes-specific component—in this study, Weight Watchers was used—lost significantly more weight and experienced better blood glucose control than those following a self-initiated program using supplemental counseling materials.

Some 86 million Americans are estimated to have prediabetes, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. If prediabetes is not effectively managed, there is a significant risk of developing type 2 diabetes, which is associated with higher medical costs.

Previous research has shown that people with prediabetes can reduce their risk of developing type 2 diabetes by 58 percent if they lose 5 to 7 percent of their body weight through a structured lifestyle program aimed at weight loss, dietary change and an increase in physical activity.

The new findings suggest that weight management programs “could [be used to] significantly expand access to effective diabetes prevention programs,” said lead investigator David Marrero, the J.O. Ritchey Professor of Medicine at Indiana University School of Medicine.

Targeting Chronic Conditions

As SHRM Online previously reported, 2014 results from a Rand Corp. study of PepsiCo’s wellness program found that its disease management component, which focused on helping employees with chronic conditions such as diabetes and hypertension, had a very strong return on investment (ROI)—PepsiCo realized a savings of $3.78 for every dollar it spent on disease management.

But the ROI for the program’s lifestyle management component, promoting better fitness and healthier behaviors for employees in general (that is, those with and without chronic conditions), did not reduce health costs by any significant amount—although broad-based fitness and health-promotion may yield tangible benefits with regard to workplace culture, employee engagement and even corporate performance.

Stephen Miller, CEBS, is an online editor/manager for SHRM. Follow me on Twitter.

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