How data can help you manage your modifiable risk factors.
See the original article on WRAL TechWire here.
by Latisha Catchatoorian
Living healthy lives requires intentional choices about what we eat, how physically active we are, what kind of habits we form, and many more factors. Of course, there are some things we cannot change — age, ethnicity and family history, for example. However, there are a lot of things we do have control over.
“Health is complicated — there are a lot of pieces that contribute to our overall health and wellbeing,” said Dr. Stephanie Mills, a physician and president of inHealth Strategies, a company that offers evaluation and planning for population health solutions to employers, communities and health systems.
The key is knowing which of these “pieces” we can tweak or adjust to mitigate health risk and even enhance our total wellness.
An individual can reverse or prevent certain chronic conditions by making lifestyle changes. These conditions are influenced by modifiable risk factors (such as smoking) that can increase your chances of getting a condition (like lung disease).
Orthus Health, a wellness and condition management company headquartered in Raleigh, identified the top eight costliest conditions with modifiable risk factors by examining the information and claims history of numerous employers’ data. The conditions were selected due to the potential costs employers and health systems could face in the years to come should the conditions not be prevented.
Top Eight Chronic Health Conditions with Modifiable Risk Factors
5. Chronic Lung Disease
6. Heart Disease
7. Musculoskeletal Conditions
8. Emotional Wellbeing (Anxiety, Depression, Stress)
“I think that the emphasis on modifying risk factors for disease are often under-emphasized in our healthcare system — particularly in a physician’s office where they’re focused more on the treatment of the disease at hand and have less time to spend educating the patient on those items that may help either prevent, reverse or reduce their risk of chronic diseases,” said Dr. David Michael, an internal medicine physician at Vidant Medical Center.
“Know Your Number is one of the best communication tools that I’ve found to be able to articulate to a patient their risk, why it’s important, and what that risk could mean down the road,” Michael continued. “The ability to focus on some of those risks that are modifiable or that they have the ability to change, not just with medication, but with lifestyle factors such as diet, exercise, and smoking cessation is also helpful.”
Part of the Orthus Health singular wellness platform, Know Your Number is a patented risk assessment tool developed from a scientifically-backed algorithm; it employs a health survey that is paired with member biometric results to provide a personal health risk score and report. Individuals are able to visually understand their modifiable, relative risk for chronic conditions and use the data to help them manage behaviors and habits.
Michael said the information is easily digestible for patients and he’s seen many respond to the information with modifiable behavior. Additionally, he said the data helps patients become proactive, rather than reactive to chronic disease.
Mills, who also uses Orthus Health’s risk assessment tool, added it helps people see their progress from year-to-year, compare their results with others in their age and gender categories, and “can be very impactful in motivating someone to start action.”
According to the CDC, more than 30 million people in the United States have diabetes, yet 25 percent of these people don’t know they have the disease. It’s very hard to modify behavior or manage a condition if you don’t know you have it to begin with; this is why health risk assessments and regular biometric screenings are so useful.
“Know Your Number points out the risk for heart disease, diabetes, stroke and heart failure over the next five years, which can be motivating,” Michael explained. “But what tends to be more applicable is it gives the percentage of modifiable risk and what risks are contributing to that possible condition. It also gives a percentile compared to aged-matched gender.”
He continued, “So if you know that you’re in the top 5 percent of women your age for a risk factor, then you know that what you’re doing is contributing to that overall reduced risk and improved health, versus showing someone that they’re actually in the 90th percentile from risk.”
As these examples show, data can be great for motivating individuals to change or reinforcing positive behaviors. And while one set of data doesn’t tell a person’s entire health story, well-researched information of any kind, especially something this comprehensive, is certainly helpful.
Jeff Soileau, a partner with inHealth Strategies, said focusing too exclusively on clinical metrics can get a bad rap, but they’re often good indications or at least jumping-off points, into a picture of a person’s overall wellness.
“When you look at the research that’s been done, there’s a number of things that have a strong correlation with the development of chronic disease. So strong that once you cross certain thresholds for things like BMI, waist circumference and blood pressure, you can often predict whether or not someone will develop certain types of chronic disease within the next few years,” Soileau said. “The reality is we know that if we can improve someone’s BMI by just 7 percent, it will significantly reduce their risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.”
More information about your health can not only help you stay on track with good habits or resolve to make better ones, it can also lower health expenses. People with chronic conditions simply rack up more healthcare costs.
According to a 2018 study published by the Journal of the American Heart Association, one in three adults has been diagnosed with hypertension, which results in a national medical cost of $131 billion — 3 percent of the U.S. national expenditure.
Whether behavior modifications are health or cost motivated, Michael emphasized changes should be patient-specific, as each individual’s situation and health are unique and that education is the basis of any good course of action.
“I can tell a patient that exercising 30 to 50 minutes five days a week, eating a whole food, plant-based diet and not smoking is the road to optimal health, but that is very ineffective in moving someone who’s far away from that, toward that goal,” he said. “The average patient is becoming much more savvy and is able to digest data better than they were when I started practicing 25 years ago. As we start to educate, we can expect patients to play more of a role in their health rather than just taking orders — they’re actually becoming involved in taking control and understanding what measures they can follow to show significant improvements in their health.”
It’s important to remember that these modifiable risk factors are just that — modifiable. Through its wellness and condition management platform, Orthus Health continues to prove data is essential to not only getting an assessment of your overall health, but for also applying actionable solutions to managing it too.