Once a month like clockwork, thousands of people with UnitedHealthcare insurance get a call from a nurse about their chronic condition, usually heart condition or diabetes. The nurse discusses with them how they’re feeling, answers any questions and reminds the patient of prescription refills and doctor’s visits.
These people are all in UnitedHealthcare’s disease management program designed to help improve the health of members with heart failure, coronary artery disease and diabetes.
People in the program have told us they like the personal attention of the regular phone call because they get to talk to a medical professional about their problems without having to pay a co-pay. Some end up spending more time on the phone with the nurse than they would at a short office visit with a physician. And they have to go to fewer physician appointments, which saves them both time and money.
I know of one patient in our disease management program with heart disease, who developed a frequent cough. When he told the nurse, she thought it could be a side effect from one of his medications and suggested he check with his doctor. He followed her instructions and was prescribed a substitute that worked without the side effect.
UnitedHealthcare’s disease management program attempts to manage the “whole person,” by augmenting the calls from the nurses with referrals to social workers and dieticians. The goal is to assist the patient in integrating their physicians' treatment plans into their lifestyle. Some participants receive phone counseling once a month, others more often.