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Programs that focus on prevention, offer personalized support, and leverage real-time digital tools to provide members with the data and insights they need to take control.

If you work in HR, you already know about the steep costs of helping employees manage chronic health conditions like diabetes. And with more than one million Americans being diagnosed with diabetes each year, the potential for these costs to continue going up is a real and current concern.

When left unchecked, chronic illnesses like diabetes can develop into significant issues, reducing the quality of life for employees and requiring painful, costly interventions. It’s not uncommon for conditions like diabetes to become debilitating for employees, with treatments reaching hundreds of thousands of dollars. Even for employees with well-managed diabetes, treatment can still cost employers north of $15,000 per patient each year.

Related: Warning sign: Rising health costs signal diabetes diagnoses years in advance

That’s why employers should consider actively helping employees manage and maintain chronic conditions to improve their quality of life and reduce the company’s financial burden. If you find yourself in this position, below are three strategies you can leverage to help curb costs.

1. Focus on prevention

There’s a reason the adage “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” endures. Prevention is critical, and by making prevention as easy as possible, employers and benefits advisors can help make sure members take all the necessary steps to keep themselves as healthy as possible.

According to the CDC, six out of ten adults in America have at least one chronic condition that requires ongoing management. Major conditions include obesity, heart disease, cancer, stroke, diabetes, lupus, arthritis, depression, Crohn’s disease and high blood pressure.

We’ve seen success in programs that put prevention at the center of their awareness and education efforts and empower members to take better care of their health. And while prevention remains the best treatment, many members already living with chronic conditions need additional support.

2. Offer personalized support

Consumers are used to receiving very personalized support, and health care for employees should be no different. Rebates on gym memberships, incentives for health screenings, and assessments and consultations with dietitians are just some of the ways employers can personalize support.

The goal is to identify programs that offer targeted messaging and support, especially those focused on whole-person treatment rather than disease or symptom management.

For example, a Michigan-based member named Chuck was struggling with his weight, high blood pressure, and reduced mobility. He found that the personalized program offered by his employer was very effective at keeping him motivated and developing strategies that are unique for him. “Each and every coaching session I had was unique and different,” Chuck said.

3. Incorporate digital tools

Another successful strategy for employers is to offer programs that blend digital tools with education and coaching. With the popularity of fitness apps and wearable devices, it’s easy to see why this approach in particular helps members make long-lasting, beneficial changes to their behavior.

For example, one highly successful program we work with, provided by Teladoc Health®, delivers a blend of digital and personal tools for diabetes management. The program, called Livongo, offers a holistic approach to diabetes management by pairing 24x7x365 remote monitoring with emergency outreach (made possible by a cellular glucose meter and unlimited testing strips at no cost to the member) with 1:1 live coaching and ongoing health challenges .

The results have been promising and hint at a possible future of similar tools for managing other chronic conditions. For example, one member, Sandra, recently used this kind of program to help control her diabetes: “My life has totally changed. Six months ago I was lethargic and on the couch, and now I have more energy than I’ve ever had. The program is personalized based on the information I’m providing as I’m testing. “

Enhance members’ lives while curbing costs

While it’s impossible to quantify the value of disease management strategies for chronic illnesses, we can look at the numbers in health care spending to see the impact on the bottom line.

On average, when members use prevention programs, employers can save up to $150 per month per patient. In addition, programs that focus on prevention, offer personalized support, and leverage real-time digital tools provide members with the data and insights they need to take control.

Debbie, a North Carolina-based member, says the program and app provides the daily nudge she needs to stay on top of her health. “Since the program’s start, I’ve lost between 40 and 50 pounds. That, in turn, lowered my blood sugar numbers for diabetes and lowered my blood pressure to where my medication is now on the lowest dose.”

If we can encourage diabetes patients to successfully manage their condition – for pennies, compared to the expense and trauma of radical interventions – then the door is open for similar tools to manage other conditions. Staying on top of those tools, and sharing them with employers, is the first step benefits advisors and administrators can take to help members find better outcomes down the road.

Jennifer Bollinger ([email protected]) is a client manager for Trustmark Health Benefits.


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