Effectively Caring for Patients with “Invisible” Conditions

Effectively Caring for Patients with “Invisible” Conditions


Why proactive patient education is imperative in value-based care

It’s much easier to prevent a disease than to cure it—not to mention less costly, as well. This principle is what’s driving the value-based care movement in the U.S. Policymakers are finally accepting what doctors have always known: in health care, providing fairly inexpensive services early on can help prevent the need for costly specialized care in the future.

But what if a patient’s needs aren’t obvious? What about those “invisible” diseases or conditions like mental health conditions, Alzheimer’s, or hearing loss? By asking the right questions and taking a proactive approach to patient education, doctors can make a difference in these cases.

Why behavioral health is integral to overall well-being

Patients with behavioral health problems—which include both mental health conditions and substance abuse—cost two to three times as much to care for as those without them, reported Medical Economics. A major reason is that these patients often don’t take care of themselves, frequently due to lack of diagnosis or resources.

As we shift to value-based care, inquiring about patients’ behavioral health will become more common in all areas of medicine.

As health care continues to shift to value-based care, inquiring about patients’ behavioral health will become more common in all areas of medicine, since it is integral to getting a clear picture of a patient’s overall wellness. Asking about substance abuse, whether they own a gun, etc. “is going to become part of the standard of medical care,” Michael Caudle, M.D., told Medical Economics.

Those suffering from mental health issues can be the people you least expect, including doctors and professional athletes. NBA player Kevin Love wrote an article about a mid-game panic attack he suffered last year. He said he decided to push past the fear and stigma to open up about seeking mental health treatment in order to help others.

He pointed out the discrepancy between how physical and mental health are treated. “It’s kind of strange when you think about it. In the NBA, you have trained professionals to fine-tune your life in so many areas. Coaches, trainers and nutritionists have had a presence in my life for years. But none of those people could help me in the way I needed when I was lying on the floor struggling to breathe,” he wrote, admitting that he went to his first therapist appointment “with some skepticism.”

All health care providers must take a proactive approach in addressing and de-stigmatizing mental health with their patients.

For more on this topic, see Why Behavioral Health Is Every Doctor’s Business

Underserved patients the most at risk for Alzheimer’s

Just like with mental health, another debilitating and potentially deadly disease affects millions but often goes undetected: Alzheimer’s. The brain-deteriorating disease affects more than 5 million Americans—including one in 10 people age 65 and older, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. Alzheimer’s kills more people each year in the U.S. than breast cancer and prostate cancer combined.

Eye doctors are uniquely positioned to address Alzheimer’s risk factors with their patients.

Eye care providers are uniquely positioned to help combat the Alzheimer’s crisis because of their intimate knowledge of the eye and brain, and also because of their access to patients. ODs examine an estimated one-third of the U.S. population annually. While there is currently no cure for Alzheimer’s, doctors can still help patients by debunking common myths and advising them on potential risk factors associated with brain aging and dementia.

Alzheimer’s disproportionately affects women, African-Americans, and Hispanics. If your practice treats underserved patient populations, proactive and targeted patient education is a must. One method that’s proven to be effective with patients of all backgrounds and literacy levels is narrated videos.

For more on this topic, see Can Optometrists Help Detect Alzheimer’s Disease?

The link between hearing loss, outcomes, and care costs

There is another “hidden” condition associated with depression, Alzheimer’s, and cognitive decline, and that’s hearing loss. In 2011, research by Frank Lin, M.D., Ph.D., an otologist and epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins University, found that hearing loss correlated with a 24 percent increased risk of cognitive decline and dementia, reported The Hearing Review in its report, “Hearing and Value-based Health Care.”

According to the report, the direct cost of caring for those with Alzheimer’s and other dementias in the U.S. was an estimated $259 billion in 2017. “As hearing loss is a risk factor for dementia, treating hearing loss more aggressively in older patients could potentially save billions in preventable dementia-related care costs.”

Researchers have found correlations between hearing loss and worse patient outcomes, and to greater care costs.

The report also suggests we take a closer look at the link between hearing health interventions and overall savings in care costs, “because researchers have found correlations between hearing loss and worse patient outcomes—which, in turn, lead to greater expenses in treating the patient.” And yet, only 16 percent of doctors routinely screen for hearing loss, according to the Center for Hearing and Communication.

It makes sense that if a patient can’t hear your instructions, they are unlikely to follow through on their care plan. This is yet another reason why illustrated animations and other visual patient education methods are superior to verbal explanations.

Once again eye doctors are in a unique position to make a difference, because in many cases, patients with vision problems also have poor hearing.

For more on this topic, see How Eye Doctors Can Help Patients With Hearing Loss

And for more on the best ways to educate your patients, get in touch with the patient education experts at Rendia today.

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