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Three Ways You Can Reduce the Impact of Cardiovascular Disease this American Heart Month

Most of the readers of this blog know that cardiovascular disease (CVD) is the number one killer of men and women in this country. According to the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention, CVD is a leading cause of disability, preventing Americans from working and enjoying family activities. Out-of-hospital cardiac arrests cause the deaths of an estimated 250,000 Americans each year. CVD costs the United States over $300 billion each year.

Joel Zive

Joel Zive

There are many small but significant actions we can take. Here is what you can do to make a difference: empower or continue to empower patients to take care of themselves.

1. Address the cost of heart medication

If the cost of your medicine is an issue, talk to your doctor or contact a patient assistance program that may be able to help with prescription co-pays.

2. Encourage healthy behaviors

Want people to eat better? Give them coupons for healthy food. Exercise? Give them coupons for short-term memberships to health clubs.

The stakes are higher in our country’s current health care landscape. With more people on health insurance than ever before, we need to do everything we can to empower people to seek help before an emergency and talk to their doctor about what they can do to take better care of themselves. This will have a direct effect on deaths from heart disease.

3. Ask your employer about Automatic External Defibrillators

There are instances in which individuals are dealt devastating genetic hands of cards. Recently, the Philadelphia Inquirer highlighted the plight of a Philadelphia family that had a genetic link to hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a disease of the heart muscle.

For those who do experience heart issues, or even have a major event such as cardiac arrest, Automatic External Defibrillator (AED) devices can significantly increase the likelihood of survival. AEDs have been available for over 20 years, but in recent years, device makers have reduced the size and cost and increased usability of defibrillators, making public access defibrillation viable. “We believe ease of use is one of the most important qualities in an AED because the potential user may not be well-trained in resuscitating a victim of sudden cardiac arrest,” said Bob Peterhans, General Manager for Emergency Care and Resuscitation at Philips Healthcare. “This is consistent with the American Heart Association’s criteria for choosing an AED.”

While risk factors for CVD are often genetic, the majority of CVD is triggered by factors that are controllable: smoking, diet, and exercise. And this is where individual efforts need to be focused.

For more information on preventing CVD, check out the American Heart Association’s guidelines for taking care of your heart, which are broken down by age. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also offer an American Heart Month guide to controlling risk factors for cardiovascular disease. You may also want to check out The Heart Truth, a campaign from the National Institutes of Health to make women more aware of the danger of heart disease.

Read more Real World Health Care heart health-related posts:

Are you taking steps to prevent cardiovascular disease? If you, a family member, or a friend has CVD, what is working for treatment? Share your experiences and insights in the comments section.

Not Your Mother’s Big Pharma

In a September 29 article in Adweek, Joan Voight demonstrates how the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is expected to create new opportunities for pharmaceutical stakeholders to play a more active, personalized role in managing patient care through interactive web-based tools. Three aspects of the ACA will change the way treatment decisions are made and reinvent how patients and Big Pharma interact.

Paul DeMiglio

Paul DeMiglio

Fill the Primary Care Gap
Although providers will be overwhelmed by an expected uptick in newly insured patients, pharmaceutical companies can help reduce the strain while strengthening relationships with consumers in the process. MerckEngage — an online educational and marketing program that has attracted 8.2 million visits since its launch in 2010 — is one example of just how this can play out. Among some of the resources the website gives members access to include:

  • Free personal health tracking
  • Daily planners
  • Food and exercise tips
  • E-mail messages
  • Content updates

Doctors who sign up will receive alerts to track their patients’ activity, and starting this year the program also features mobile versions for patients and providers alike.

Provide Solutions to Adherence Challenges
A key goal of the ACA — to prevent sick patients from developing more serious conditions and needing more care — emphasizes the importance of increasing medication adherence. This need presents a valuable opportunity for pharma to personalize treatment and communicate in ways that resonate effectively with target audiences.

AstraZeneca is collaborating with Exco InTouch to help patients and doctors track and manage chronic conditions through mobile and web-based tools:

“The first app addresses chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Patients enrolled in the program collect, transmit and review their own clinical data, while their doctors use real-time information to personalize each patient’s care, adjust meds and possibly prevent hospitalization. The patients’ identifiable data is only seen by patients themselves and their healthcare providers, says AstraZeneca,” the report notes.

Develop Innovative Bundles
Implementation of ACA will also change the way prescriptions are made, with insurance companies and accountable care organizations (ACOs) choosing what to prescribe instead of individual doctors. This can serve as an opportunity for pharma to build support among ACOs by creating and branding a package of services for patients and providers that spans behavior modification, education, tracking and dispensing of drugs.

Eli Lilly’s online diabetes program that helps patients and families manage the disease, Lilly Diabetes, was critical to paving the way for this marketing approach, according to the article:

“In Lilly’s case the tools include a meal planner, a self-care diary, a carbohydrate tabulator and even an emergency guide in case of hurricanes or earthquakes.”

Now we want to hear from you. Do you agree with the article? What are the long-term implications of pharmaceutical companies having access to more data about consumers in this new era of digital outreach? What might be the potential advantages and disadvantages?

Patient Advocacy Group Shares Solutions to Fuel Greater Participation in Workplace Wellness Programs

Workplace wellness is not a new concept, but it is definitely one that is recently gaining more importance.

With non-communicable diseases on the rise, many people are becoming more concerned about what lifestyle choices can be made to avoid them and stay healthy. Furthermore, businesses recognize the cost of stressed, out of shape, non-productive employees: increased health insurance costs,absenteeism, retention problems, and loss in productivity. Trying to take a more active role in the health of their employees, employers are creating and implementing wellness programs that encourage healthy behavior. Through incentives and rewards, companies are encouraging their employees to make healthy lifestyle choices like eating well and exercising regularly.

Melissa Kostinas

Melissa Kostinas

Despite the benefits of these programs, their success and sustainability can only be achieved through employee participation – which has been a challenging feat for many employers.  Without high participation, programs will result in limited return on investments for employers and might discourage them from implementing other programs in the future.  Because of this risk and the tug of war between cost and benefits, some companies find it too difficult and futile to implement workplace wellness programs.

Fortunately, there are solutions that help employers increase participation. First and foremost, companies should be focusing on the employees themselves – their needs, schedules, and interests – and design programs tailored to these considerations.

Employers should ask their employees: What gets you healthy? What motivates you to do what everyone knows is healthy behavior? We all have reasons for not doing what we know we should – time, access, knowledge, and cost. All these factors contribute to our denial.

Employees are busy, so the more a company can incorporate healthy eating and activity into existing schedules the more likely they are to embrace them. Easy access to workplace wellness programs makes a big difference. Onsite, or nearby programs offered during breaks or outside work hours also are great ways to tackle the time and access excuses.

Information and knowledge, while seemingly obvious, helps to motivate employees too. Of course we know we should exercise, but do your employees know that physical activity helps to prevent back pain?  It increases muscle strength and endurance, and improves flexibility and posture. With this knowledge, maybe the next time they get that twinge in their lower back they might think about exercise instead of painkillers. Providing reduced or no-cost programs will also boost participation rates. Coupled with incentives, like bonuses or rewards (e.g. allowing employees to trade in some of their unused sick days at the end of a year for an extra vacation day), rates of participation are likely to increase.

There are also management steps that can be taken to increase and maintain participation.

Unless employers are committed to employee wellness, the workplace wellness program becomes another ineffective plan that sounded good on paper but never achieved the anticipated results. The executives at Valley Health System understood the importance of managerial commitment. When they created Valley Health Workplace Connection the program managers worked closely with the health system’s managers to make sure all higher-level staff understood the importance of their involvement. Today, Valley Health Workplace Connection is a very successful workplace wellness program with high participation and employee satisfaction.

To ensure such success, workers from all levels should be actively engaged in programs. Planning should include processes to maintain communication with staff and the creation of program committees to guide intervention, observe participation, and adjust programs accordingly.

Additionally, program designers should consider all the major health risks in their targeted population as well as their business’ needs. Different programs should be offered at different levels, depending on characteristics of the recipients. The key is integrating health into the business. Policies governing the workplace wellness program should align with the organization’s mission, vision and values. They must affirm and communicate the value of good health and show commitment to engage workers in health enhancement. Again, a program is only effective if it reaches the intended audience and motivates them.

Pfizer recognized this and found that using programs like Keas got their employees more involved because it was engaging but less invasive. By making wellness a challenge and incorporating games and goals into the plan, Pfizer overcame the primary challenge in any wellness program — participation.

The bottom line is that wellness programs are gaining steam, but there are challenges. Having the support of management and creating a program that meets your employees’ needs will allow your program to overcome those challenges.  Be creative and remember: Wellness can be fun.

Not So Fast! Chews Your Bites Carefully.

Paul DeMiglio

Paul DeMiglio

You might ask what gulping down your meal has to do with health. Well, the reason could lie somewhere in your middle.

Proper diet and exercise are critical ingredients to successful weight management, but there’s even more to the story. When you have your next meal, remember that fewer bites might mean more calories consumed and a snugger fit into your swimsuit this summer.

The New York Times did our homework for us in a May 6 story by C. Claiborne Ray:

“Long-term effects of fast eating on weight gain were examined in a 2006 Japanese study using questionnaires filled out by 3,737 men and 1,005 women. The faster they reported eating, the higher their reported body mass index and the greater the increase since the age of 20.”

Do you agree? Does fast eating have something to do with putting on more pounds? Share your story below.

This post is the first in a series of tips we will share for watching what and how you eat.