National Partnership for Women & Families

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Erin Mackay, Associate Director, Health Information Technology Programs

From the desk of ... Erin Mackay, Health IT

How Do I Get to Healthy?

This year, some 43 million people will buckle their seatbelts and hit the highways for the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. Many of us will program our destinations into various GPS-enabled navigation devices. What if, instead of plugging in your destination address, you could ask for directions to get to healthy?

Care plans have been getting attention recently as a way to enhance communication and better coordinate care, typically among providers and with regard to specific health conditions. We wanted to know how patients and families would define an effective care plan, so we gathered a group of our consumer coalition members and asked them what they needed to better care for their own health, or the health of a loved one. 

They told us the idea of a care plan as a static document was impractical.  With any one change – a new diagnosis, the loss of a caregiver – the care plan gets tossed out the window. What consumers really want from the next generation of care plans (or, Care Plans 2.0, as we call them) is a roadmap to better health: step-by-step directions to achieve a personal health or wellness goal. And they’d like that roadmap to be built on a dynamic, electronic platform that connects relevant people and information in real time – a GPS for better health and wellness.  

Where To?

Perhaps your health care providers, like mine, have been telling you for years to get more exercise, or reduce your cholesterol, or floss your teeth daily. Your providers’ goals may motivate you to change behavior, or they may not. Consumers’ vision of Care Plans 2.0 involves identifying a goal that is meaningful to you, and then plotting a path to achieve it. Maybe you want to run a 5k in your mother’s memory or attend your granddaughter’s wedding without use of a wheelchair. Whatever is important to you becomes the goal of your personalized care plan, supported by appropriate clinical recommendations. 

Ready to Navigate

The next step is to identify those people and supports that can help you achieve your goal, and invite them to be a part of your care plan.  Your care team may include different doctors, family members, a social worker, pharmacist, or personal trainer – whoever has a role to play in helping you achieve your goal. Care Plans 2.0 would allow you to decide what information to share with whom, and tailor the information display. Your primary care doctor will need more medical detail than a family member, for example, while your personal trainer probably doesn’t need access to your lab results. You define your care team and set the information parameters. 

Make a U-Turn Where Possible

Despite our best intentions to be healthy, life inevitably gets in the way – a significant family event reshapes priorities, a new job disrupts an exercise routine, seemingly endless holiday treats derail efforts to eat better. The care planning process should take into account the full and unique range of factors affecting an individual’s ability to get and stay well – including life situation, home environment, cultural differences, faith preferences, caregiver status, etc. – and identify resources and supports to overcome any barriers. If your goal was to run a 5K, but you’ve got two young kids and your neighborhood lacks a safe space to train, the care planning process would identify both the barriers and possible solutions – perhaps identifying a nearby high school with a well-lit track or a local YMCA with free childcare, along with bus routes for transportation. 

Arriving at Your Destination

The pursuit of wellness is a journey, not a destination. When it comes to achieving – and sustaining – better health or optimal functioning, there is always a new goal, or a revision of an existing goal. That’s why consumers need the next generation of dynamic, electronic health and care planning tools to support their efforts, track progress, and adapt to changing circumstances. 

So this year as you’re hitting the road and programming your navigation device, consider what your health and wellness destinations are and how Care Plans 2.0 can help you get there. 


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