Improving Quality of Life for People with Chronic Diseases

February 9, 2012

The Institute of Medicine (IOM) last week issued a report, Living Well with Chronic Illness: A Call for Public Health Action, on the growing impact of chronic diseases in the United States and how the incidence of these highly manageable and largely preventable conditions are approaching “crisis proportions.”  Not only are they costly – the medical care costs of people afflicted with chronic diseases represent 75 percent of the $2 trillion in U.S. annual health care spending – but for those who suffer with them they are compromising the ability to live well.

Commissioned by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Arthritis Foundation, the numbers in the report underscore what the Partnership to Fight Chronic Disease focuses on daily – the critical need to tackle this epidemic head-on by identifying, supporting and investing in more evidence-based programs that focus on the prevention of chronic diseases and well-developed care coordination strategies for the one in two Americans struggling with one or more chronic diseases already.

A few of the findings of the IOM-appointed study committee include:

  • All chronic illnesses hold the potential to worsen the overall health of our nation by limiting an individual’s capacity to live well.
  • While a range of public policies have helped individuals with chronic illness, it is important to design and implement new public policies or explore promising approaches to further promote living well with chronic illnesses.
  • Enhanced collaboration among the public health, health care, and community non-health care sectors could produce better prevention and treatment outcomes for people living with chronic disease.

While the findings in the report paint a challenging picture of the work ahead, they also help re-shape and sharpen our collective focus on investing in and promoting ways to both better tackle the incidence of chronic disease and reduce health care spending.  In doing so, we can help transform our health care system from a sick-care system to a well-care system. 

It’s not enough to simply treat the symptoms of a chronic illness; we need to prevent them altogether and better manage them so that those with chronic illnesses enjoy not just an increased quantity in years, but more importantly, an improved quality of years.