For most people facing life with a chronic condition, direct support that helps them live comfortable, happy lives isn’t readily available. It’s important to acknowledge that chronic care patients have every right to feel anxious as a first step, and may need additional support or care teams past their doctors and nurses to guide them on their journey of living with a new condition. The invaluable next step is going beyond their treatment plan by accelerating support for greater patient autonomy to drive down repeat hospital visits and increase patient satisfaction.
If a person breaks a bone or has their tonsils removed, chances are there’s a short recovery plan with a clear end in sight. Unfortunately, for patients with chronic conditions, their treatment plan involves learning to live with their condition and still lead an enjoyable lifestyle. They face challenges managing their health, navigating the healthcare system, and are at greater risk of negative outcomes that could lead to more frequent use of healthcare services, increased healthcare costs, and additional unplanned medical admissions.
Chronic care patients, especially those dependent on home medical supplies and devices, experience significant health disparities that impact their quality of life and inflate healthcare expenses. They often have to prepare themselves for regular experiences of pain, discomfort, unnecessary lifestyle changes, or product fit challenges. This includes more people than one might think because of the prevalence of chronic disease, rapid technological advancements, and a rising aging population. In fact, the U.S. durable medical equipment market is valued at 56.3 billion dollars and is expected to reach 92.8 billion dollars by 2030.
The home medical device industry lacks key insights about the patients they serve and the necessary product fit experts and care to ensure patient success. This, in turn, leads patients to book specialist appointments to fill in the gaps, usually months out, for basic medical device fit questions.
While many local and online communities offer a range of support for people with chronic conditions, primary care has struggled to integrate behavioral health, mental support, and peer support in its treatment plans. This has driven fundamental issues where patients are recommended treatment that doesn’t take into account their unique environments, leaving them without the holistic care needed to recover and better manage their conditions.
To complicate matters, patients often have to wait several weeks to receive their medical supplies. Frequent challenges arise in managing timelines between manufacturers, payers, and patients, which remains prevalent today. It’s important to acknowledge this situation and find a way to close the gap in access and convenience of obtaining medical supply products for people with chronic conditions.
Dependence on national medical supply companies with lengthy, manual processes that do not adapt to specific patient needs creates burdens on patients’ day-to-day lives. In addition to leaving patients to manage their complex chronic conditions, these outdated medical suppliers require patients to go out of their way in order to source products that may or may not be the proper fit. To improve health outcomes, patients need to be given direct access to medical supplies and support for finding the right supplies, rather than forcing them to become their own care coordinators.
Therein lies an opportunity to help close the growing gap in our healthcare system, between patients with chronic conditions and the doctors that support their care, by pairing easier medical supply management and delivery with coaching by close peers and a comprehensive medical care team.
Achieving better health outcomes for patients will require a paradigm shift where the concept of the provider moves beyond the initially prescribed treatment plan to include a multidisciplinary care team, family, and peer support. This community-based approach with peer-to-peer knowledge sharing can focus on each patient’s specific needs, providing them with coachable methods to modify behaviors and troubleshoot challenges.
Direct support from a peer coach that understands a patient’s behavioral and physical challenges and is more aware of a patient’s social determinants of health can get to the root of an issue quicker and have a stronger impact on care. Research shows clear evidence that incorporating peer support can drive concrete benefits and a variety of improvements for individuals and the healthcare system, including cost savings, fewer hospital visits, more effective clinical outcomes, improvements to quality of life, and reduced psychological distress.
Considering the cost savings by avoiding hospital readmissions alone is monumental improvement for patients. Take for example, ileostomy and enterostomy patients. These patients have the second highest 30-day readmission rates for surgical procedures, at 29.1%, and have to pay roughly $9,000 for each post-surgery readmission.Given that the most common causes of readmission are dehydration and infection, health outcomes and healthcare costs can be significantly improved with proper education, personalized consultation, and peer support services. In fact, post-discharge ostomy support programs have been shown to reduce the odds of hospital readmission by 55% and odds of emergency room utilization by 63%.
Looking at the psychosocial side of life with a chronic condition — in other words, keeping an eye on mental and emotional health — is another essential part of a patient’s management plan. People with chronic health conditions can experience trouble maintaining relationships, difficulty being confident in their bodies, and general feelings of isolation. Programs like Peer Support by Better Health are designed to fulfill the unique psychosocial and health needs of people with chronic health conditions and have already been proven to decrease hospital visits by 64% in ostomy patients.
Once the industry shifts to see healthcare as an ecosystem of patients, physicians, and caregivers in the patient’s environment, it will improve overall health outcomes. The hope for the future is a healthcare system that not only recommends treatment plans, but also integrates peer support and ongoing patient education for medical supply management. With an aim to empower people with chronic conditions to better manage their health, now is the time to help improve patient outcomes in the long term, ensure higher quality of life, and lower costs for patients and payers.
Naama Stauber Breckler, is a healthcare entrepreneur focused on creating human-centric solutions that support underserved populations. She is the co-founder and CEO of Better Health, a new type of medical provider offering an end-to-end care solution that bundles peer support coaching, patient education, insurance management and home delivery of medical supplies.
Prior to founding Better Health, Naama was the co-founder and CEO of CompactCath, a manufacturer of novel catheters for people with chronic bladder issues. She also co-founded MocaCare, a smart heart health solutions company, and Avails Medical, a diagnostics company for rapid digital detection of infections.