Rethinking Healthcare

We all need a health trainer

We all need a health trainer

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We can save $100 billion per year on the nation's health care bill if we just deal with this "other drug problem," the problem of people not taking the drugs they're prescribed. The World Health Organization says solving the compliance problem would do more for the world's health than new therapies.

My personal trainer had some shocking news for me this morning.

He wasn't on vacation as I thought. He was in the hospital with high blood pressure.

How high? Try 290 over 150 high. He almost died. He was in intensive care for a couple of days.

What made this doubly shocking is how Marcus looks. Like a Greek God he looks. Muscles on muscles, a disciplined lifestyle, and he never loses his temper, either. Marcus is the impossible health goal everyone at my YMCA shoots for.

But hypertension is heriditary and they don't call it the silent killer for nothing.

Marcus is now on a dozen pills, which he has to take at various times. Mr. Ted, a volunteer trainer in his late 70s (recently profiled in Creative Loafing, from which the picture is taken), consoled Marcus by talking about his own medical load.

It's a lifetime sentence, the pills, he said. You have to take them, every day.

Which brings me to the latest news, a study in the American Journal of Managed Care showing that employers who offer primary care at work, including pharmacy, get much better compliance on medicine for chronic conditions like hypertension than other employers.

This can mean serious savings. If you know your blood pressure and take your pills you stay out of the expensive hospital and more-expensive ICU. If you think that a healthy lifestyle alone will get you by you may end up like Marcus. Or worse.

Chronic conditions are the big expenses in our national health care account. Diabetes alone may represent one-fifth of the nation's health care bill. Proper management of these conditions can keep people healthy. A failure to manage them leads to big bills and death.

We can save $100 billion per year on the nation's health care bill if we just deal with this "other drug problem," the problem of people not taking the drugs they're prescribed. The World Health Organization says solving the compliance problem would do more for the world's health than new therapies.

Mr. Ted showed us his compliance solution, a pill box he refills each day  marked morning, afternoon and evening, containing all his daily medications.

We're all going to get together again, a few days a week, and talk. That's also a good idea, according to the Journal study. It's the human contact that turns compliance from a chore into something you do as reflex, a gift to yourself.

The smart takeaway from this is we all need a personal trainer. Even personal trainers do.

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Dana Blankenhorn

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor Dana Blankenhorn has written for the Chicago Tribune, Advertising Age's "NetMarketing" supplement and founded the Interactive Age Daily for CMP Media. He holds degrees from Rice and Northwestern universities. He is based in Atlanta. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure