Interconnected health

What condition are you treating? It used to be a simple question with a simple answer. Patients went to opticians or dentists, to physiotherapists or osteopaths, or to one of a number of other health professions depending on their prime need.

In recent years, there has been a growing recognition of the need for a more holistic approach, looking to provide all round support for conditions which may well be interconnected. Whilst that doesn’t diminish the importance of specialist care, treatments now also look beyond the specific. For example, optimising physiotherapy outcomes may also require some attention to lifestyle, diet and nutrition; whilst those with heart disease may also require some help with oral hygiene.

The importance of understanding the interconnectedness of health conditions has been highlighted by two new studies. The first, published on The Lancet Global Health website, reported the results of a systematic review of the association between vision impairment and mortality. The study’s authors concluded that there was a direct link between vision and impairment and all-cause mortality; with the magnitude of the effect increasing with more sever vision impairment. And whilst it might be reasonable to assume that problems with sight could lead to factors such as an increased risk of falls, the authors also highlighted a link between vision and areas such as cognitive impairment, dementia, and depression.

The second study by the Health Foundation looked at the challenges faced by those living with multiple conditions. That research revealed a link between the way in which an individual’s health needs are being met and the overall health of others in their household.  

In the UK a quarter of people have two or more long term health conditions; with their care accounting for more than half of the country’s health care costs. Interestingly the study has found that where these individuals live with others who also have two or more long term health conditions, each of them require higher care costs, greater numbers of GP visits and higher levels of community care than if they were to live with individuals with no long term conditions. This study not only highlights the interdependence of care within the family but also highlights the way in which those planning care packages need to take into account overall household situations rather than simply the health of the individual.

In a way neither of these studies reveals anything which could not be deduced by those who see patients on a day to day basis. And yet, sometimes it takes studies such as these to confirm what health professionals already suspected; the importance of stepping outside of a narrow band to take a more holistic view of treatment programmes.

It’s a viewpoint which can also be taken into the day to day running of health practices. Appointment and diary management, electronic filing of patient notes, call answering; whatever the process, there could be scope for streamlining or optimising practices by taking a more holistic viewpoint. Particularly so, when client flow is seen as a continuous interconnected process rather than as a series of discrete points. For example, when appointment reminders are seen as an integral element of  the appointment process then diary management and a reduction in no-shows could follow, helping the practice to optimise its treatment times.