Results improve with holistic approach to chronic disease

A holistic approach to chronic disease management is more likely to produce long-term results because it goes beyond the underlying condition.

A holistic approach to chronic disease management is more likely to produce long-term results because it goes beyond the underlying condition.

Catherine Biermann, manager, digital product solutions and partnerships, at Medavie Blue Cross, told its ‘A Topical Discussion on Diabetes and Weight Loss: What Employers Should Know’ session that this kind of approach targets the contributing factors that lead to underlying health issues which typically have the biggest and longest lasting impact on health.

Studies show that those who've received coaching and education services as part of a holistic approach to treatment are more successful in delaying, managing, and even reversing, in some cases, their condition than those who don't take that approach.

A holistic coaching approach is typically undertaken in the diagnosis or treatment phases of the health continuum, but by its very nature, this type of approach can continue to support a patient all along their health journey. “While some programs focus mostly on just the medical or just the dietary or just the activity levels when treating chronic diseases, a holistic approach looks at all of this together in combination and this really enhances the member’s wellbeing and increases the likelihood that they're going to achieve their health goals,” she said.

As well, holistic health coaching doesn't focus on a specific desired outcome based on the patient's health. “It's really based on the outcome the patients are looking for ‒ their desired end goals. By setting goals that are meaningful to each person, they are more engaged in that coaching process and this is going to also improve the learnings that they take in and retain,” said Biermann. This helps promote the adoption of new habits which means they'll also be more likely to have longer lasting adherence.

However, holistic approaches aren’t something found in the public healthcare system even though provincial governments have been impacted by people who are admitted to hospital or who just heavy users of the system due to their chronic medical conditions. The increasing incidence of diabetes and obesity is a case in point. This has been going on for decades and while some provinces have, for example, diabetes care centres, those tend to be focused on a single condition. Those with chronic conditions for many years who are trying to get back on track can't get into these programs because they're full of people who are newly diagnosed. “So access is a very difficult issue,” she said.

“While I think everybody would agree the public health system is probably the best place to have these programs, someone else needs to be found who may benefit from them.”

That someone is benefit plan sponsors. However, the reason employers should be focusing on it is not just the cost of a chronic condition. It's everything else that that goes with it ‒ absenteeism, presenteeism, potentially longer disability claims, future disability claims, or avoiding future life claims. If plan sponsors can reduce or eliminate those direct and indirect diabetes costs, “that's going to be a financial win for the employer year after year into the future.

“The question is can that be achieved and the answer is yes,” said Biermann.