April 2011

It was about twelve years ago when I first experienced type 2 diabetes up close: a friend’s mother was diagnosed.    Back then, it was generally assumed that insulin injections would be the next step and nothing could really change that fact.  Rather than just sit around and wait for her diabetes to progress, though, my friend’s mother chose to get proactive about preventative care.  She found support groups, interviewed nutritionists, spoke with exercise instructors, radically changed her diet, and implemented an age-appropriate exercise regimen.  She is able to control her diabetes without insulin injections.  To this day, she has experienced no real diminution in her quality of life.

As you can imagine, talking to all those experts took time.  What took even longer was finding them.  She was practicing what is now called “Disease Management,” a coordination of health care professionals and techniques designed for assisting patients that can benefit from self-care.  Similar to how our health coaches help us establish realistic and meaningful health goals for a long, happy, and productive life, disease management creates an environment that coordinates many different facets of long-term care.  Each patient has access to the proper and necessary medications.  With disease management in play, he or she also has the information needed for healthful eating and exercise habits. Psychological well-being is also addressed.

Obviously, this is great for patients.  It’s also positive for insurers and employers.  Using disease management techniques, insurers have lower costs over the course of the illness.  Employers also benefit from fewer absences and on-the-job injuries.  One thing that employers can do is to follow the lead of insurance companies.  It is easy to find materials published by insurance companies covering chronic diseases, medication compliance, physical fitness programs, and the like.  Employers can help disease management become a reality by encouraging regular checkups and making the time available for employees who have been diagnosed with chronic illness.  Implementing a comprehensive wellness plan, with disease management included, is one of the best things any organization can do.

Just like working closely with a health coach, disease management makes good sense for everybody by recognizing and utilizing the mind-body-spirit connection that creates the path to greater health and happiness.

Jackie Ostrikis MS CPT

Jan Barker did everything right.  As described by her sister Laurie, she was a fitness freak.  Jan exercised regularly, didn’t smoke, rarely drank, and ate lots of fruits and vegetables. In October of 2007 Jan was diagnosed with colon cancer.  She died two months later, leaving behind a grieving husband, son, siblings, parents and many friends.  She was 55 years old.

Your first thought might be  – why bother to exercise and eat right – it didn’t help her.  Let me rephrase, Jan Barker did ALMOST everything right.  Jan never had a preventative screening in her life, no mammograms, pap smears, regular check-ups.  She didn’t have a colonoscopy even though she was over 50 and had a family history of colon cancer.

To often companies and individuals focus on the big two – exercise and eating right. Picture a three-legged stool, you need all three legs for it to work.  Preventative screenings are the first step in early intervention to prevent or control major consequences down the road.  Combined with exercise and a healthy diet, preventative screenings can go a long way to impede illness or disease.

After Jan was diagnosed with cancer her sister Laurie made an appointment for a colonoscopy. You might respond, of course that was the sensible thing to do.  But I think it was more than that.  Laurie did not hesitate as she was used to getting preventative screenings.  Why? Laurie worked for a company that offered preventative screenings at the work site.  For a long time Laurie worked for Progressive Insurance. While she worked there she took advantage of getting mammograms, pap smears, and her cholesterol checked all without leaving the building.  Because her employer made it so convenient, Laurie got in the habit of getting preventative screenings.

It would be great if all companies had workplace health clinics. Unfortunately it may not be feasible for smaller organizations to offer on site screenings.  But it is possible for all companies to encourage employees or offer incentives for employees to have annual exams and get preventable screenings.  Under the Affordable Care Act many preventative screenings are covered without having to pay a copayment.

A few hours after Jan passed away, Laurie received the results from her colonoscopy.  Three pre cancerous polyps had been removed. Laurie and her doctor will closely monitor the situation.  Laurie has redoubled her efforts to exercise regularly and eat right. Laurie IS doing everything right.  Chances are good Laurie will be around for many years to come, thanks in part to the habit of regular screenings her employer helped her to establish.

Valorie Bender