Diabetes, heart disease, and cancer are all among the top ten causes of death in the United States.
These diseases are considered major chronic illnesses, affecting 60% of adults in the country. Chronic conditions reduce quality of life and result in significant healthcare costs. There is a significant body of evidence suggesting that, in the US, the burden of chronic disease will continue to grow at an alarming pace over the next ten years.
With that in mind, it comes to no surprise that organizations like the American Diabetes Association, the American Heart Association, and HealthyPeople2020 are urgently advocating for increased efforts around the prevention and management of these diseases.
Prevention strategies aim to reduce the chance of developing the disease, while management strategies aim to enhance quality of life and reduce complications related to the disease. A number of tools exist to help achieve these goals, including:
1. Lifestyle & Behavioral Change
Lifestyle modifications can include: adaptations in nutrition, physical activity, tobacco cessation status, and alcohol use counseling. Maintaining a healthy diet, incorporating physical activity, eliminating tobacco use, and reducing excessive alcohol use are instrumental for both successful prevention and management of all chronic diseases. Many of these lifestyle practices are key risk factors for multiple diseases. Tobacco use, for example, is a major risk factor that increases the chance of developing diabetes, heart disease, stroke, as well as a number of cancers.
2. Regular Health Screenings
Health screenings are key mechanisms for both early detection and prevention of exacerbation of chronic diseases. The importance of these screenings increases with age, as the risk of developing a chronic disease increases.
· Regular cancer screenings can help detect cancers in the early stages, which in itself, can lead to better treatment outcomes.
· Diabetes screenings, done through blood sugar levels, indicate whether the diabetes is controlled or uncontrolled. Based on the value, there may be adjustments to lifestyle factors and medications that can have significant impact downstream. Adequate control is important in preventing long-term complications, such as heart disease, kidney disease, and eye disease as well.
· Checking blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar levels regularly is important in preventing heart disease. The results are helpful in determining the treatment a person will receive.
3. Comprehensive Medication Management
For those already affected by one or more chronic conditions, comprehensive medication management is another important tool in preventing complications and improving quality of life.
Medications help control blood pressure levels to reduce the risk of heart attacks and stroke. They can also help control blood sugar levels to reduce the risk of eye disease, kidney disease, and heart disease.
For medications to be effective, however, a person must be adherent to the treatment plan established between the patient and the provider. Understanding the disease, the importance of lifestyle modifications and medications, and potential barriers are key elements to ensure treatment adherence.
Pharmacists can help educate patients on their medications and address questions relating to effectiveness, side effects, appropriateness, and drug interactions.
Utilizing pharmacists is advantageous in preventing and managing chronic diseases. As the most accessible healthcare professional, they can improve patient outcomes and serve as a tool for patients and other providers. The value of pharmacists’ involvement in patient care is well established, and integrating comprehensive medication management as an ongoing component of chronic disease management has shown to result in significant improvement in quality of life and lowering of healthcare costs.
Community, ambulatory care, and clinical pharmacists already play an important role in performing medication therapy management. Today, with the advancement of technology, pharmacists can communicate with patients through telepharmacy services and a variety of additional methods that can engage people in ways that fit their daily lives.
Additional benefits of improvements in technology include facilitating the process of identifying patients in need of screenings, assist in monitoring the status of their chronic conditions, and help address adherence and other treatment and lifestyle-related issues. The combination of data science, increased health screenings, technology-enabled clinical expertise, and lifestyle/behavioral management has the potential to significantly reduce the burden of chronic disease.