Category Archives: Chronic illness

May 14 2013
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Breaking the Silence on African-American Men’s Health

Keon L. Gilbert, DrPH, MA, MPA, is an assistant professor in the Department of Behavioral Science & Health Education at St. Louis University's College for Public Health and Social Justice. As a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation New Connections grantee, his research focuses on the social and economic conditions structuring disparities in the health of African American males. His work seeks to identify sources of individual, cultural, and organizational social capital to promote health behaviors, and health care access and utilization, to advance and improve the health and well-being of African American males. This is part of a series of posts looking at diversity in the health care workforce.

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I became a public health professional because I recognized a need to find opportunities and strategies to prevent the chronic diseases I saw silently killing African Americans in the community where I grew up. I vividly recall as a child the whispers surrounding the deaths of community members about cancer, diabetes (or sugar-diabetes, as it is commonly referred to in many communities still today), heart attacks, and strokes. I knew there was stigma and fear, but never heard of programs, interventions, or opportunities to stop these trends.

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My interest in addressing these problems led me to pursue summer programs and internships during high school that allowed me to witness amputations of uncontrolled diabetic patients who had a range of clinical and social co-morbid conditions. Many of these amputees were living in poverty, they had Medicare or Medicaid, and the majority happened to be African American. This experience raised the question about prevention: How could I prevent African American men and women from having amputations? I never heard this conversation around prevention in my community. Many people seemed to accept the reality of developing these chronic conditions as a fate that could not be controlled.

I knew there had to be another way.

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Apr 24 2013
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Why Don’t Depressed People Live as Long as Others?

Jason Houle, PhD, is a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health & Society Scholar at the University of Wisconsin. He recently published a study online in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine that finds association between depressive symptoms and mortality is due to later health problems, not prior physical health conditions.

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Human Capital Blog: Why did you decide to look at this particular topic?

Jason Houle: I first started looking at this topic in graduate school, when I took a course on event history models (a quantitative method often used when studying mortality). Up to that point, most of my research focused on the social determinants of mental health, but I had become increasingly interested in the link between mental and physical health. While there’s a long literature on how depression influences physical health (and vice versa), as a demographer, I was really interested in the link between depression and mortality. When researching this topic, I discovered a rather large literature that showed that people who experience depression tend to die younger, on average, than those who do not. However, it wasn’t clear from prior research why, exactly, depressed people tend to die younger than those who are not. Though it makes sense that depression is linked with mortality, the reasons behind it remained a puzzle, and I thought it would make an interesting project.

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Apr 5 2013
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Spending Money to Save Money in Health Care

Ashok Reddy, MD, is a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Clinical Scholar in residence at the University of Pennsylvania and a senior fellow at the Leonard Davis Institute of Health Economics.  This is part of a series of essays, reprinted from the Leonard Davis Institute of Health Economics’ eMagazine, in which scholars who attended the recent AcademyHealth National Health Policy Conference reflect on the experience.

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With the debate about the fiscal cliff and the sequester hanging so heavily over Washington, it was no surprise that congressional staffers at the AcademyHealth National Health Policy Conference seemed so exclusively focused on cutting health care spending. Some estimated that 30 percent of the $2.5 trillion spent on health care may provide little value; finding interventions that provide high-value care is a top priority that tends to obscure any other possibilities.

In this prevailing atmosphere of stark fiscal reality and gridlocked politics it can be hard to gain traction for the idea that investing in programs that prevent chronic diseases would ultimately decrease the costly long-term expenditures driven by those diseases. But that’s where traction is needed.

Take diabetes for instance. One estimate has the medical treatments for people with diabetes costing 2.4 times more than expenditures that would be incurred by the same group in the absence of diabetes. By preventing the development of diabetes in an individual you decrease the risk of heart attack, kidney failure and amputated extremities.

It is true that, so far, research in cost-effectiveness analyses has not shown that prevention reduces medical costs. Besides childhood vaccination and flu shots for the elderly, few health care services ‘save money.’ A 2010 Health Affairs article calculated that if 90 percent of the U.S. population used proven preventive services, it would save only 0.2 percent of health care spending.

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Dec 17 2012
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The Role of Caregivers in Supporting Patients Living with Chronic Illness

Andrea Wallace, PhD, RN, is an assistant professor at the University of Iowa College of Nursing and a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Nurse Faculty Scholar.

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Patients live in communities that offer support and include influences that are outside the walls of clinical settings. While this is not a new revelation, I have often had to remind myself and the students I teach that, as health care providers, we witness only a very small part of patients’ lives, generally at a time when they are most removed from their experience of daily living.

"I cringe to think of how many of my adult patients I’ve asked to adopt a complex medication schedule for their diabetes, all the while suspecting they may have limited literacy skills"

We must remain continually aware of patients’ personal and financial resources when planning care. But it was not until recently that I became incredibly taken with the idea that, for many patients living with chronic illness, it’s those who help patients care for themselves—the daughter picking up medications, the neighbor driving to appointments, the spouse doing shopping – who may make the difference between successfully and unsuccessfully coping with what can be incredibly complex self-management regimens.

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