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The digital divergence in chronic disease management

June 06, 2022
Health IT
Amanda Hansen
By Amanda Hansen

My dad’s journey as a chronic disease patient with Type-1 diabetes shaped my life. I distinctly remember significant medical events that included two kidney transplants and two new pancreases. Also engrained in my memory are his daily struggles of dialysis and the lugging of his entire medical history to every single appointment. Those papers were heavy—weighted in history and in trauma—and forced specialists of all kinds to flip through pages upon pages seeking clarity on his complex case. These “binder burdens,” typical of the time, unfortunately limited the quality of care my father was able to receive.

While my dad lost his battle at 60 years old, today I marvel at the advancements made in medical records since then. As someone who started out as an intern in health IT, I have seen the development and implementation of EHRs firsthand. While there have been challenges, it is undeniable that these systems have reshaped the management of chronic diseases, helping both patients and providers manage conditions with greater comprehensiveness, coordination, and efficiency. Physicians are no longer forced to act as historians, while patients (and their families) no longer need to carry that heavy load. Beyond that, today’s EHRs are optimized to engage patients, support doctors, and enable greater opportunities to treat the right patient at the right time.

Chronic disease burden
According to the CDC, 90% of annual healthcare expenditures totaling $3.7 trillion in the U.S. are for people with chronic and mental health conditions. Providers attest that poor management of these conditions leads to significant health problems and high expenditures. When disease isn’t appropriately managed in a timely manner, larger more costly problems result down the road. Some of the most vulnerable patients simply can’t afford it.

Physicians, meanwhile—particularly in independent settings—are shouldering workload burdens as they struggle to manage patients with complex conditions. Their intention is to focus on the patient in front of them, but often they’re distracted by an increasing load of administrative and clerical tasks, especially after hours. This trend is resulting in burnout among clinicians, who lack the tools to help them deliver patient care effectively in the current healthcare environment.

Clinical efficiency solutions
With supporting resources, independent physician practices are in the optimal position to effectively manage complex disease patients. On a large scale, digitization of medicine enables providers to identify and understand trends in entire patient populations. Within the EHR, providers leverage data about effectiveness of treatment plans and make determinations about future treatments based on presenting data. Physicians are also able to seamlessly search through patient charts for specific terminology when treating chronic disease. These tasks, just two of many, were not feasible with paper charts just one to two decades ago.

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