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The value of a whole-person approach to health care

Originally published in The Tennessean, July 2019

I recently heard the story of Chanda Hurst-Davis, one of our care navigators, who assisted a member who not only has diabetes and behavioral health issues, but had just been diagnosed as legally blind.

Chanda made sure to connect him with one of our own nurse care coordinators, helped him apply for community-based resources for physical needs in his home, and shared information on local support groups.

Chanda’s great work illustrates common, but perhaps surprising themes about the people we serve and our total health philosophy for supporting BlueCross members.

She recognized that these needs all affect one another, and she had to take a holistic approach to helping him. People often look at the mind and body as disconnected, and sometimes even consider eye care and oral health as distinct from the rest of the body.

That’s just not how humans work. When something affects one body system, it likely affects another. An integrated approach to health helps better identify and manage health concerns. 

Some signs are readily recognizable clues to conditions. For example, someone presenting with jaundice would quickly be examined for liver disease. You can also look to the eyes and get an indication of how well someone’s diabetes is controlled, or whether they have significant hypertension. It’s even possible to identify certain types of cancers through the eyes.

Using data to improve the health of our members

One thing we’ve learned is that members are three times more likely to get eye exams than routine physicals, perhaps because declining vision feels like a more pressing concern. We want our members to do both each year, of course.

Here’s an example of why both matter: We received 104,000 medical diagnoses for our members in 2017 that came about because of eye exams.  As we integrated that data into our system, it added to the picture of what we know about those members — which helps us reach out sooner and with a better understanding of how to help them achieve their health goals.

Dental health matters, too, and it further illustrates the value of an integrated approach. Pregnant women in particular need to prioritize dental care because an abscess could become a source of infection that put both the mom and the baby at risk.

Again, there’s a connection to chronic health conditions. People with diabetes who get proper treatment for periodontal disease are 39% less likely to have a hospital admission — and their overall medical costs are around 40% lower.

To better support our members, we’ve built integration in our data systems and within our care management teams. 

For example, clinical data exchanges make it easier for our own teams and pharmacists across the state to recognize potentially dangerous drug combinations. Since prescription drugs are our most commonly used medical benefit, this safety measure can help save lives. And we have the opportunity to talk with members about how medications are an important part of caring for their health, but are not the complete solution.

Our clinically trained teams — including registered nurses, pharmacists, social workers and more — understand that a total health approach is the best way to bring better health. 

They communicate with and support one another so we can support our members.

And that’s what matters most: improving the head-to-toe health of each person we serve.

About Dr. Andrea Willis, SVP, Chief Medical Officer

A photo of the authorDr. Willis ensures that all clinical initiatives and quality endeavors support the needs of our members, and contribute to the overall health and well-being of our communities.

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