Human capital – the stock of knowledge, habits, social and personality attributes embodied in the ability to perform labor so as to produce economic value.
When reading the above definition of human capital, a particular word jumps out… habits. I am passionate about habits because poor lifestyle choices—or bad habits—are the number one driver of today’s health crisis. Chronic illnesses—such as heart disease, stroke, asthma, diabetes, and obesity—are responsible for 7 of 10 deaths each year, and treatment of chronic diseases accounts for 86% of U.S. healthcare costs. However, while they are among the most common and costly of health problems, chronic diseases are also the most preventable and manageable, because they often result from choices we make in our daily lives. To conquer chronic illness, we have to change our bad habits. And that’s not easy.
If I had to prescribe one medication to cure bad habits, it would be patient engagement. When we are effective at engaging patients to participate in their care, they begin to take more responsibility for their own health and adopt healthier habits. Effective engagement of chronic disease patients can lead to reductions in hospital visits, decreased morbidity and mortality and improvements in treatment adherence and quality of life.
To truly influence positive behavior changes, health goals must fit meaningfully in patients’ everyday lives. People must be surrounded by opportunities to embrace healthy lifestyles, and that requires the involvement of the entire community – care providers, governments, businesses, and of course, the people living there.
It’s no surprise that 7 of the top 10 Future-Ready cities overlap with the American Fitness Index’s list of healthiest U.S. cities. These developed cities are arguably some of the most connected and most educated, and they have infrastructure that supports recreational activity. But health is not only an outcome of development, it is a prerequisite for it, and never before have communities had such an incredible tool to engage people in making healthy lifestyle changes… technology.
Just as technology is giving providers more ways to care for and engage their patients in more places, it’s also providing the means for governments to reach constituents, businesses to tailor wellness programs for their workforce, and people to take charge of their own health.
Technology gives caregivers unprecedented opportunity to engage patients and provide excellent care, anywhere, while also giving both patients and doctors a valuable feedback loop. Telehealth, remote biometric monitoring, and technology-assisted health coaching are powerful tools in the fight to improve chronic care outcomes because they provide in-the-moment support to patients struggling with diet, exercise habits, and medication routines.
For example, an FDA-cleared mobile app that delivers real-time motivational messages, behavioral coaching and educational content right to the mobile devices of patients with Type II diabetes has demonstrated significant drops in their A1C levels.
Even simple text message programs can make a difference. Text2Breathe, a program of the Children’s National Medical Center, sends care information and reminders to parents of children with asthma and has helped help reduce emergency room visits.
State and local government
State and local government agencies have immense power to use technology to spearhead healthy lifestyle and disease prevention programs. For example, in response to Philadelphia’s high rates of chronic disease, city officials recently launched PhillyPowered, a multi-media campaign designed to encourage Philadelphians to become more physically active. The campaign features a mobile-friendly website, which lists free or low-cost places to get fit in the city, provides educational information, and includes a social media component that enables Philadelphians to share tips on how to fit exercise into their busy lives.
Portland University, in conjunction with the Oregon Department of Transportation, is piloting a smartphone app called ORcycle
designed to collect data and feedback about bicycle routes, infrastructure and accidents in order to improve infrastructure suitability for bicycling in Oregon.
Businesses suffer from the impact of chronic illness through absenteeism and retention problems, yet they are uniquely positioned to promote healthy lifestyles for workers and their families. Employers can work with their health plans to identify need for wellness programs and services such as preventive screenings, tailored to lowering both health risks and costs.
Companies are increasingly integrating technology into their wellness programs. For example, Dell’s Well at Dell program includes a virtual wellness portal that imports numbers from onsite health screenings and provides employees with an action plan, educational information, and email and text reminders to stay on track. Some companies are adopting wearable technology as part of their wellness programs to incent employees to get fit. It is worth noting that data security and privacy is paramount to protect employee health information and need to be designed in as part of all of these initiatives to maintain the trust that is essential for an effective healthcare system.
Technology today gives communities in all geographies the means to invest in the health of human capital and very real opportunities to shape the future of healthcare… now.
This article previously appeared on Future Ready Economies site
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