Most physicians can recall a certain patient who defines why they chose to pursue medicine. For me, that patient is Mrs. Jones*. Mrs. Jones had struggled with multiple conditions including diabetes, high blood pressure, and obesity for many years. As her primary care physician, I sensed her feelings of hopelessness and helplessness – of being out of control.
One day, we had a frank conversation about her weight and how it was affecting her overall health. Something clicked within Mrs. Jones that day. She transformed into the model patient, making vital changes to her lifestyle. She began working with a nutritionist, changed her diet, and started exercising. Over the next six months, she lost weight, came off several of her medications, and drastically improved her health and overall sense of wellbeing. I had the privilege of partnering with Mrs. Jones, sharing information which influenced some of her behaviors, propelling her to being highly engaged in her health. If only I could bottle that “something that clicked” and give it to each and every one of my patients!
Mrs. Jones personifies the reason I chose to pursue medicine. From an early age, I had a fascination with health and wellness. As a gymnast for more than 10 years, I gained a deep appreciation for the human body. Being an athlete taught me the body is like a temple — a majestic entity that can propel us to soaring heights, meanwhile housing our inner spirit and soul. I also came to realize that this majestic entity must be safeguarded and cared for each and every day in hopes of carrying us forward.
My curiosity and fascination with all things health naturally put me on a trajectory towards medicine. I had a deep seated passion to teach others to care for their health and wellness. Before attending medical school, I was a grassroots community health organizer working as an AmeriCorps Volunteer with the Texas Department of Public Health, going door to door in low-income neighborhoods teaching people about their health. I planned programs such as cooking classes and support groups and built community gardens, all with the goal of helping communities and individuals become more successful with their health outcomes.
So where am I going with this? In my life’s journey of understanding health and working with individuals to help them achieve health and wellness, one thing stands out: when a person understands their health and is actively in charge of their health, they are empowered to achieve success. Mrs. Jones is living proof of that. She is the definition of an activated and engaged patient. Once she had complete understanding of her disease processes, she proactively modified her behavior, managed her health, and partnered with the health system, ultimately achieving excellent health outcomes.
There are roughly 117 million Americans living with chronic health conditions. In 2010, 86% of all healthcare spending was on persons with one or more chronic conditions. While the U.S. spends more on healthcare compared to other high-income countries, overall health outcomes are worse, including shorter life spans and greater prevalence of chronic conditions. Clearly we need to bridge the gap between healthcare spending and better health outcomes.
There are many studies in the literature which show that patients who are activated and engaged in their healthcare have lower BMI’s, lower average blood sugar levels, better blood pressure control and normal cholesterol levels. Yet, engaging patients continues to be an elusive goal. Why aren’t there more folks with success stories like Mrs. Jones? We need more effective mechanisms in place, restructuring healthcare to empower and engage patients.
At Valeet Healthcare, our mission is to provide both patients and healthcare systems with the tools to become true partners in healthcare. We aim to provide the “something that clicks” for patients, transforming them from mere recipients of care into engaged active participants of their care. We also give healthcare providers tools to do this effectively. If health systems work with patients hand-in-hand to help them holistically understand their needs, and if patients can better understand their conditions, they can take charge of their health. These partnerships will fuel empowerment and engagement and result in better health outcomes at a lower cost.
*Name changed for privacy