Business of Well-being

Corporate Wellness and the Role of Chronic Disease Monitoring

While statistics may vary, in a typical modern company about 12 percent of their population is Type-II diabetic and upwards of 20 percent suffer from other chronic diseases such as hypertension and heart-related issues. Companies know that this population accounts for the vast majority of their health-care spend.

What innovative steps can a company take to better service this population and reduce costs while improving care? Some wireless technology is looking promising in the realm of chronic disease monitoring Years ago, there was an industry segment called TeleHealth.

For the most part, this meant releasing grandma from the hospital weeks earlier than desired and instead of having a 24 hour nurse, technology would augment nurse and doctor visits. Well, technology has changed and a wealth of inexpensive devices are available now for more "average" ambulatory conditions.

The cost issues with Type-II Diabetics and other employees who suffer from chronic diseases are largely related to repeat doctor visits, unexpected hospitalizations, and intense treatments (e.g. amputation) not to mention all of the lost productivity and lost work days.

The overall healthcare industry is now realizing that almost all of that cost can be avoided if we kept a closer eye on this population and enable them to more actively participate in their own health. In fact, the real goal is behavior modification - getting the patient to self-manage their own health toward the desired outcome.

We have to first start with some basic data collection that provides insight into their health. Simple and inexpensive wireless devices now exist that can be used in the comfort of one's own home and as effortlessly as literally stepping on a scale and walking away. There is no need to interact with any special software or computers in many of the available solutions.

The patient simply performs the biometric step (e.g. taking their blood pressure or glucose) and the wireless nature of the devices reports the results to some nearby transponder and makes the data available in the patient's medical record. Now, it has been pointed out that people do not get healthier simply by standing on a scale. They don't.  

But they do a little bit, if they look down at the number. And a little bit more, if they know that number is captured somewhere. And a little bit more if they know that number is being seen by other people in their care circle (doctor/clinician, loved one, etc). In fact, that accountability and transparency is key to the necessary behavior change.

Collecting the data is part of the solution. Re-presenting the data is just as important. This means deploying software on innovative devices that allow a patient to know their status and provide encouragement as well as gather additional non-biometric data (e.g. How do you feel today?).

Some attractive counter-top Internet Picture Display devices are being used that automatically change what they are displaying based on a variety of conditions (perhaps showing  a chart one day, and encouraging pictures the next). Messages to your cell phone (reminders for example) and email are typically part of a solution.

In fact, you might imagine some day checking into a Marriott hotel or sitting in your BMW and having to interact briefly with your health record. It doesn't end there either. Some solutions are integrating Facebook and even Twitter (imagine an automated Twitter tweet when you've reached a certain goal).

Today's employees embrace technology and rely on technology for marshalling their lives - now they can embrace much of the same technology for managing their health. It turns out that if an average Diabetic paid a little more attention to their health and lost a few pounds, kept their blood pressure where it should be, and monitored their glucose closely, they'd cost their health system about $6,600 less each year.  

Slightly better eating habits, a deeper attention to exercise (and recording that exercise) and just in-general keeping better tabs on their health can greatly reduce doctor visits and hospitalizations. Employees who have tried such solutions report "feeling more in control" of their health. Or feeling more of a sense of caring from a larger audience not feeling alone in managing their disease or condition.  

Doctors themselves are now encouraging such uses because soon they will be paid more based on "outcomes" rather than individual services and thus will be rewarded for healthier chronic patients rather than their frequent visits. So who is providing solutions along this theme? The market is emerging.

You can find solutions of the more traditional bent from the expected players, Bosch, GE, Siemens, but also look to the new-comers in the health field: CA, Intel, Microsoft, IBM, and yes, even Google. All have some parts of the solution space described above and all are rapidly evolving.

This approach to health care holds the highest promise of both improving outcomes while dramatically reducing costs. Employers should actively seek such solutions and start with the more acute patients/employees and then work to the broader population. Timing is good.

About the Author

Chris Stakutis Chris.Stakutis@ca.comis currently Vice President of Emerging Technology with CA focusing on new and pervasive devices that are providing volumes of information and connections, particularly in the energy and healthcare spaces. Chris is a renowned inventor with over 20 patents, 2 published books (Inescapable Data; Surviving Technology), numerous articles, and often seen speaking on the dramatic changes pervasive technology is bringing.

Prior to CA, Chris was CTO of IBM/Tivoli's Advanced File System market initiative which focused on bringing real-time file system management capabilities across the enterprise. Chris was the founder and CTO of SANergy, sold to IBM in 2000. SANergy was the first shared-SAN file system technology to use a split-data/meta-data approach to high-speed data sharing.

Chris's background is largely in real-time operating systems and process controls. At Mercury Computers, he was one of the lead architects for the massively parallel operating system used today by high-end defense and imaging applications. Prior to that, Chris was the lead architect at Precision Robots developing applications to operate a chorus of robots in a wafer handling environment.

Many years at MIT/Lincoln-Labs gave Chris a broader understanding of the science of engineering coupled with the value of commercialization. Chris has 25+ years experience in the field of computer science. He completed his BSCS from Worcester Polytechnic Institute in 3 years and his MBA from Babson College in a leisurely 10 years.

Learn about how you can become a Certified Corporate Wellness Specialist→