Illustration by Lito Colarina

A new kind of health “care”

Changing the comorbidity conundrum

The comorbidity conundrum
Imagine that you’re 65 years old, and you have 5 or more comorbidities with multiple physicians prescribing specific medications to treat each of your conditions. You have so many health issues that you are taking double-digit medications multiple times a day. And imagine that these medications don’t necessarily work together to provide the optimal outcome. Unfortunately, each medication works separately to achieve its results, and, on top of that, they create side effects when combined that become what often feels like another symptom of yet another disease — welcome to the reality of how these combined medications interact with each other. This is because pharmaceutical companies never designed them to work together.

A system of challenges
The collective nature of health “care” on the individual as well as its negative impact on the system continues to grow at a pace that’s exceeding that of healthcare solutions. You’d think that with the ascendancy of health tech that trajectory would change quickly for the positive, yet it continues to maintain a pace that’s hard to counter. And the toll it’s taking is the well being of people — physically, emotionally, and economically — as well as the heavy burden it places on the healthcare system. It’s a circular conundrum. Although healthcare’s main objective is to “care” for the patient, healthcare is also a global business and the system is incentivized for various reasons to diagnose and treat patients in very specific ways. But as the incentives change from fee-for-service to an outcomes-oriented model, placing value on “care” will not just be the right thing to do, it will also be a profitable thing to do.

But what if there were a different way?
A way in which we could diagnose the patient and then treat them with medicines that worked together. A way in which doctors and pharmacists collaborated to make sure the patient was prescribed the most effective medicine so that the patient could actually benefit from the drugs prescribed to them.

It’s time to treat differently
Evidence indicates there are some very progressive healthcare models in Europe and the United States with so much learning and opportunity to build upon. One such model is Think Whole Person Healthcare http://www.thinkhealthcare.org/ in Omaha, Nebraska, which has done just that with a holistic approach to treating the comorbid patient. In this healthcare model, physician-led healthcare teams work together to treat and educate patients with the goal of creating a daily health routine that patients can live with. This provides a myriad of benefits for the individuals, their families, and healthcare in general.

Treat with method
When you’re living with multiple comorbidities or conditions you need a special kind of treatment. Think Whole Person Healthcare has a different method to treating patients. They look at the person holistically, from physical, emotional, mental, and societal perspectives and then determine how to move forward to give each person an improved quality of life.

With this approach, Think Whole Person Healthcare puts the pharmacist and the physician at the center of the healthcare team. With the pharmacist positioned at the center of the care team, they’re able to bring their pharmacological understanding of each drug and its impact on other medications to the patient in an effort to avoid the adverse effects of combined medications. This means that treating the condition is delicately balanced with how drugs interact and how they affect each patient.

Connected caring
This connected care team also takes the time to understand the complexities of each of their patients, to understand all of the challenges they face, and the reasons why they aren’t compliant with their medications. Healthcare models that allow care teams to get under the hood, to listen and recognize that often the side effects are actually worse than the condition itself, have the potential to make the patient feel supported like they haven’t been before. As such, each patient feels understood and treated in a completely new way — with empathy, support, and nuance.

And when this works it has the ability to put the patient back in the healthcare driver’s seat, even with their comorbidities. It can have a major influence and give them a renewed health mindset and perhaps even change some of their body set. Because when you’re feeling the benefits of proper care and appropriate medication, you might just feel better. This renewed sense of well being might also have the benefit of getting patients to think about their health future, instead of just feeling helpless as a result of their various conditions.

So, when we think of health “care” today, we need to think and treat differently. We must listen, empathize, and support patients with their daily health routine. And hopefully, the benefits of this new kind of care will extend beyond the individual, to both the families and the communities of those affected.

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