Looking Abroad for Examples of a More Personalized Approach to Health Care

In the current healthcare system, there is a lack of time for quality education, communication, and follow-up from the physician. The lack of patient engagement is exacerbated by a fragmented healthcare system where insurance coverage is tied to employment and patients must change providers when they change jobs.

The United Kingdom has been one of most successful in diabetes management out of
all developed countries. This achievement is very much a result of a single-payer insurance system and strong patient engagement. Under the National Health System (NHS), health insurance is provided by a single-payer – the government – and funded by taxes. Patients are assigned to physicians to maintain the continuity of care. Because Government insurance also eliminates copays and caps on clinic visits, which allow patients to get more frequent preventive care. A large supply of nurses facilitates the sharing of health decisions with the patients through house visits and group education. For example, diabetes-trained nurses help engage the patients in self-care through educational and self-management courses like the Diabetes Education and Self-Management for Ongoing and Diagnosed (DESMOND) or the Dose Adjustment For Normal Eating (DAFNE). Community matrons or nurses can provide in-home continuing care to chronic patients, and help with physical and psychosocial wellbeing, which in turn reduces visits to the physician or hospital admission.

Personalized healthcare, an approach being developed at Duke University, focuses on patient-centered healthcare, personalized health planning (PHP), and patient engagement. Patients are given the opportunity to engage with their own health by identifying areas in their life where they are motivated to make changes for their health. In initial visits, physicians assess the patients’ risk including family history, genetic markers, lifestyle habits, and other biometric data during the appointment. Then, the physician and patient work to create a timeline for health improvement. Through the time frame of the plan, health coaches and nurses monitor the patients’ progress and help them meet their health goals. It promotes the use of health coaches and nurses to provide education, support, and outcome tracking for the patients, similar to the United Kingdom approach. Shared Medical Appointments (SMA) allow patients with the same diagnosis to receive group education from Medical Health Technicians, discuss their goals with each other, receive psychosocial support, and access a medical team together to improve the efficiency of physician visits.

While we are working on developing more effective approaches to chronic disease management, we also need to develop better infrastructure to support patient engagement. The central ideas of personalized healthcare planning – intensifying the patient’s role in health management, establishing a personalized health plan, and tracking the execution of health goals – guide us in the right direction. The United Kingdom should serve as a reference for us as we integrate prospective healthcare into our healthcare system and begin to focus on preventive health.

Shelley Chen is a senior at Duke University and a research intern at Duke’s Center for Research on Personalized Health Care.

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