By Traci Haynes
Preventive health has gained momentum over the past few years as individuals seek to improve their overall health through exercise, nutrition, mindfulness, and better lifestyle choices. Preventive care not only helps individuals and communities stay healthier, but it also helps to avoid or delay the onset of disease and keep conditions or diseases already present from worsening or becoming debilitating, resulting in a more productive life and reduced healthcare costs.
Preventative Health Stats
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), preventive services are the most basic form of healthcare recommended for all individuals. However, they estimate that Americans only use preventive services at about half the recommended rate.
More than 900,000 Americans die each year prematurely from the five leading causes of death (heart disease, cancer, chronic lower respiratory disease, stroke, and unintentional injuries). The National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion says that between 20 to 40 percent of these deaths could have been avoided by taking preventive steps.
Not only is chronic disease the leading cause of death and disability, but it is the primary cause of our nation’s annual healthcare costs. In fact, 90 percent of our nation’s 3.5 trillion dollars in annual healthcare expenditures are for people with chronic and mental health conditions.
Overall healthcare costs, including all private and public spending, are anticipated to rise by an average of 5.5 percent per year over the next decade, growing to six trillion dollars by 2027. Healthcare spending is projected to grow faster than the economy, increasing to 19.4 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP).
As you know, many of the top risk factors leading to chronic disease and premature death are preventable such as tobacco use and exposure to secondhand smoke, lack of physical activity, excessive alcohol use, and poor nutrition, including diets low in fruits and vegetables and high in sodium and saturated fats.
Most health plans must cover a set of preventive services (such as immunizations, screening tests, etc.) at no cost to the individual. Why? Because it costs less for insurance companies to pay for preventive care than it does to pay for all the associated costs for disease management.
The United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) makes recommendations for screenings, counseling services, and preventive medications based on a rigorous review of existing peer-reviewed evidence and is intended to help clinicians and individuals decide which preventive services are right for them. The recommendations are assigned a letter grade based on the strength of the evidence as well as the balance of benefits versus harms. The task force consists of sixteen volunteer members who are nationally recognized experts in prevention, evidence-based medicine, and primary care.
Another excellent website is on healthfinder.gov, titled “myhealthfinder.” It includes a tool to find personalized preventive service recommendations for individuals simply by filling in age and gender. It also includes instructions for getting the tool for your organization’s or contact center’s website.
The Call Center’s Role
What can the contact center do to help individuals learn about and receive preventive healthcare? Many things. The contact center can familiarize themselves with the recommendations for the population they serve and integrate the USPSTF recommendations, as appropriate, into their interactions. Here are four examples.
1. Chronic Cough: A 67-year old male caller who has smoked a pack a day for the past twenty-five years, calls complaining of a chronic cough lasting for weeks. After triaging the caller and providing the recommended disposition, the nurse should also advise the caller that an abdominal aortic aneurysm one-time screening is recommended for men ages 65 to 75 who have ever smoked and a lung cancer screening is recommended annually for adults 55 to 80 with a higher risk for lung cancer (heavy smokers or those who have quit in the past fifteen years).
2. Low Back Pain: An adult caller complaining of low back pain and knee pain and who has a BMI of 37, should be advised regarding obesity screening and counseling recommended for all adults after being triaged.
3. Shortness of Breath: A 47-year old adult caller with shortness of breath and who has a high risk of cardiovascular disease and is not on a statin should be told about statin preventive medication recommended for adults 40 to 75 years of age with a high risk of cardiovascular disease after being triaged.
4. Flu Concerns: A caller, age 31 who is concerned about flu exposure, but has yet to be vaccinated should be advised that flu shots are recommended on an annual basis after being triaged.
Other Opportunities: Additional uses include, if an individual is holding for the next available nurse, the automated attendant could promote preventive health recommendations or services. Preventive health could be on the organization’s website with a phone number for the contact center. Alternatively, callers could be provided the link for each individual’s gender/age preventive health recommendations in an email or text. The possibilities are endless.
Being able to encourage preventive care screenings, immunizations, etc., and where to receive them may prevent further issues over time. It is our responsibility to guide individuals to quit smoking, eat healthy, get regular physical activity, avoid drinking too much alcohol, get enough sleep, make healthy choices, and get screened.
The CDC believes that preventing disease is the key to improving America’s overall health and keeping rising costs under control. We, as clinicians, must continue to drive the necessity for preventive health and help individuals reach their health and wellness goals.
Traci Haynes, MSN, RN, BA, CEN, CCCTM is director, clinical services at LVM Systems.