The point of healthcare, in its most basic form, is to keep us alive and functioning. But we know that it can be so much more than that. The evolution of the way we think about our health has expanded far past simply keeping our bodies in working order, to a focus on optimizing our physical, psycho-social, and emotional well-being.

This month, we look at how focusing on whole patient health means looking for new ways to address widespread issues through healthcare — or more specifically, primary care.

Fighting opiate addiction with nurse practitioners

Vera_Icon_9.4 NewspaperThe opioid epidemic that has dominated the news cycle has far-reaching and devastating effects on individuals and communities. According to a recent Time article, however, one valuable resource in combating this crisis may be right in front of us: nurse practitioners.

Presently, 80% of those suffering from opioid addiction aren’t receiving the help they need. But “empowering nurse practitioners to treat addiction — and removing unnecessary restrictions at the state level — can go a long way in liberating American patients.

“Nurse practitioners, or NPs, are well positioned to help patients get the care they deserve. Equipped with graduate degrees and advanced clinical training, NPs are qualified to assess patients, order and interpret diagnostic tests, develop treatment plans, and prescribe medications in all 50 states.”

On-site primary care for snack food giant

Vera_Icon_9.4 NewspaperAs a vital part of a primary care team, NPs not only help with addiction treatment, but can provide education and support for medical issues, social determinants, and other obstacles to a healthier, happier life. From an on-site care center, NPs can be especially effective in helping patients right where they work.

Utz Quality Foods in Hanover, PA, has done just that. Utz has opened an on-site clinic to help their employees become healthier in the “Snack Food Capital” of the country. By doing this, they hope to not only improve population health, but drive down total healthcare costs.“Some of the things we were doing [like wellness initiatives] just didn’t seem relevant. We’d see a slight decrease in spending, but it didn’t stick,” said Ginger Miller, a health and wellness coordinator at Utz. “If you put primary care in place, you can curtail some expenses.”

Many large companies like Utz have made the move to on-site primary care clinics and are seeing very positive results. Employees are healthier and more satisfied while claims, absenteeism, and staff coverages have declined. "In general, these have been very successful,” said David Keyt, a worksite clinics consulting group leader for Mercer. “The caveat is you need to design the health center to fit the needs of the individual population.”

Creating better health, not just longer lives

Vera_Icon_9.4 NewspaperDuring a panel discussion at Aspen Ideas: Health, epidemiologist Jay Olshanksky said, “The time has arrived in our modern era to stop trying to make us live longer. Instead, we should just focus in on health extension rather than life extension.”This may sound confusing, since the assumption is that better health means a longer life.

But according to an article in The Atlantic on health and aging, the two aren’t necessarily related. Improvements in medicine and treatment have helped to extend our lives, but per Susan Golden — another Aspen Ideas panelist and director of the dciX innovation program at Stanford University — if people are living longer lives, maintaining their health in the long term will require an emphasis on healthy habits starting in childhood.

“It would be better if we had primary care physicians as our navigators,” Golden says. “It puts prevention up front and embeds it into the system.”

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