One of the biggest issues in the U.S. health care sector these days is that Americans spend far more money on coverage and treatment than other major developed nations, but typically get worse health outcomes anyway. With the cost of coverage and care on the rise nationwide for some time, providers and insurers alike - among other stakeholders - are working to improve those outcomes so patients get more value for every dollar they spend.
The good news is that a focus on outcomes seems to be working for one of the nation's largest coverage providers: Medicare. According to new data from the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation, wellness programs run through the larger systems had a significant positive effect on patient health outcomes, with participants generally being healthier than those who did not take part in the programs.
Furthermore, new Medicare initiatives to better deal with chronic diseases, help seniors avoid falls and boost patient physical activity all seemed to pay off in terms of mental health as well as physical wellness, the report said. However, it's worth noting that program participants tended to be younger (between 66 and 74 years old), female, non-white, and already had a higher level of engagement with their health care providers.
A bigger focus
Meanwhile, it's not just Medicare that has an investment in boosting health outcomes. Mississippi State University recently launched a new academic program to get similar gains, with funding from a major health insurer, according to the college. The school's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and the Division of Student Affairs are working together to offer a graduate certificate in "clinical health promotion and wellness coaching," as a means of giving more state residents access to programs that could improve health outcomes by connecting people with healthcare professionals who aren't just doctors or nurses.
"Having a relationship with your primary health care provider can help you manage your health and health risks," Sheila Grogan, executive director of the Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Mississippi Foundation, which funded the program, told MSU's website. "An important feature of our Blue Primary Care Home clinics in Mississippi is the interdisciplinary health care team that helps patients make realistic and effective lifestyle choices and decisions about their health care. Wellness coaches are proving to be a valuable asset in the Blue Primary Care Home setting."
Program participants will require 21 hours of credits to earn their certificates, including classroom courses, time spent in clinics and internships in wellness coaching, the report said.
Meanwhile, other efforts to improve health outcomes are likely to pay off down the road thanks to changing processes for how care providers assess patients, according to Reuters. A recent study found that standardized screenings to assess patient frailty could help improve their long-term health outcomes after a surgery. It stands to reason that those who are found to be more frail as part of such a screening are at higher risk for poor outcomes, but frailty was actually a larger determinant of long-term health complications than simply age.
Senior study author Dr. Rachel Khadaroo, a surgeon at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, told Reuters that this information could lead to more "targeted interventions" when it comes to helping nurse frailer patients back to health after surgery, and may be especially important as the population in the U.S. and Canada ages at a rapid rate.
When health care providers - or insurers - take a more active role in promoting and examining patient health before major issues arise, they are more likely to see those people achieve better long-term health outcomes. As such, it may be vital to continue studying ways in which they can promote wellness on an ongoing basis.