While much is being written on the topic, the concept of whole person wellness is hard to define. Some refer to it as “quality of life.” Others refer to it as the presence of positive emotions or moods and even satisfaction with life.
Regardless of how it’s defined, whole person wellness has certain implications. Most notably, it means reaching beyond a physical diagnosis and addressing all contributing factors to disease. It includes integrating mental health with physical health. Here are some of the factors that come into play for whole person wellness:
- Behavioral health
- Physical health
- Mental health
- Economic health
- Social health
The link between physical health and chronic disease makes sense. However, the connections between economic health or social health, for instance, are seemingly less clear. Yet when all of these factors are considered in a patient’s treatment plan, they may achieve better outcomes.
Who benefits the most from whole person wellness?
Those who will benefit the most are those with pre-chronic disease or those who have chronic disease that is not yet acute. 1 out of 3 Americans have some form of Metabolic Syndrome which can progress to chronic illness - these patients are the perfect fit for preventative whole-person wellness, as are the 70-80% of low-risk chronic disease patients.
The pre-chronic disease or low risk chronic disease patients are uniquely situated to benefit from whole person care. For instance, healthcare can slow or prevent the onset of chronic disease by treating depression, a mental health issue linked to diabetes. Clinicians can empower patients with the knowledge and tools to change their lifestyle, further slowing or preventing the progression of disease.
Why should healthcare pursue whole person wellness?
If health systems choose to invest in this paradigm, they need to know that it’s going to work. Primarily, they need to know that supporting healthy lifestyle changes will also lower costs per patient.
Does whole-person wellness really lower costs?
To answer this, we need to take a step back and look at the whole picture. Of the $2.2 trillion spent on healthcare in the United States, 75% is spent on chronic conditions.
For healthcare costs to decrease, the onset of chronic disease must be addressed. Whole person wellness has the ability to lower costs in the long run by preventing chronic disease and comorbidities in the first place.
As patients address mental, behavioral, and economic issues that prevent them from fighting chronic illness, they’ll begin to walk back chronic disease symptoms and healthcare overall may begin to see lower costs as well as improved outcomes.
Will it really work?
If patients know how to make modest behavior changes, health care will see a slow down in chronic disease.
This is good news for both patients and healthcare. Not only can the U.S. avoid the oncoming chronic illness crisis, but health care can better afford to treat those currently battling disease.
How does whole person wellness rewind the clock for a healthier self?
Wellness support programs can encourage the chronically well in prevention measures. By linking them with peer groups and health coaches, patients will become more informed and better equipped to fight chronic conditions.
Rewinding the clock through lifestyle changes
For health and well being to flourish, patients need encouragement to make lifestyle changes. This could be as simple as getting better nutrition, or it could be adding more physical activity to daily activities.
The goal is to get patients to adopt healthier lifestyles while improving mental health. For some patients this may mean adding mindfulness activities or incorporating more social support such as online peer groups to promote healthy mindsets and goals.
Addressing social determinants of health
It’s no secret that poverty impacts population health. While economic struggle is am example of a social determinant that can lead to chronic illness, health issues go far beyond poverty. Whole person wellness takes these determinants into account and seeks to answer the entire problem.
Language can be a barrier to better health. Patients who aren’t fluent in English find it more difficult to communicate symptoms and understand health care. When language barriers are addressed, patients can more easily get the help they need.
Social and economic support can also be a powerful preventative tool for patients. For instance, in one study, patients with social or economic barriers benefited from working with an employment consultant connected to their clinician. Patients benefited most from advisors who…
- Spoke their language
- Worked with them at their own pace
Such programs resulted in a 25% reduction in primary care visits.
By addressing employment issues, financial struggles, environmental problems like transportation or childcare, patients are better equipped to fight or prevent chronic illness.
One way to address social determinants of health is through the support of a health coach who comes alongside patients and helps provides tools that address patient barriers. Since coaches frequently interact with patients and ask questions to understand their environment, they can formulate plans that deal with barriers, helping patients get the care they need when they need it.
Watching for comorbidities or mental health challenges
Another factor in whole person wellness is understanding that chronic disease often comes with a whole entourage of comorbidities. For instance, cardiovascular disease progresses more rapidly in the presence of diabetes. As these illnesses multiply, so do the expenses and symptoms. To help patients fight chronic illness, they need to be alert to comorbidities.
Concurrent illnesses aren’t limited to physical health, however. Mental illness can co-occur along with chronic illnesses. While anxiety and depression are commonly comorbid, depression can also compound the progression of other chronic illnesses.
Again, health coaches as well as a peer community can help pinpoint symptoms of comorbidities or associated mental health struggles.
Could your patients benefit from whole-person wellness?
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