Social factors now main cause of early death

Chronic diseases are frequently brought about by poor diet, smoking, excessive alcohol consumption and lack of exercise. Photograph: Getty Images

Chronic diseases are frequently brought about by poor diet, smoking, excessive alcohol consumption and lack of exercise. Photograph: Getty Images

 


Over half of premature deaths are now due to patient behaviour and social factors, while only 10 per cent are due to medical factors, a healthcare conference in Dublin heard last week.

However, it is well known patient lifestyles and behaviour are very difficult to change, Prof Alan Glaseroff, director of the Stanford Co-ordinated Care Clinic in the US, told a CEO Health Forum, which featured presentations from US and UK healthcare policy and services experts.

He said doctors needed to stop lecturing patients and instead find out what motivates them, ask them what their goals are and help them plan to reach them in order to achieve better healthcare outcomes.

Doctors also need to be aware that depression significantly increases the overall burden of illness in patients with chronic medical conditions, and can double the cost of treating such conditions, so it needs to be treated proactively, Prof Glaseroff said.

High-needs patients
Supporting patients to be more involved and engaged in their own care could result in major healthcare savings as the majority of healthcare spending in the US, similar to other countries, was spent on a minority of high-needs patients.

The majority of these patients have chronic diseases frequently brought about by poor diet, smoking, excessive alcohol consumption and lack of exercise, he said.

The high cost of health insurance in both the US and Ireland was discussed at the forum, with VHI Healthcare chief executive John Dwyer saying if Ireland was to introduce a successful universal healthcare insurance system “it needs to get to grips more than ever with costs”.

He acknowledged that affordability continued to be a major issue for the health insurance sector, which needed to try to reduce costs.

Regulatory bodies
The forum, which took place in UCD’s O’Reilly Hall, was attended by senior health management from the HSE and Department of Health, including secretary general Dr Ambrose McLoughlin and HSE director general Tony O’Brien, and representatives from the private health insurance sector, private healthcare providers, medical training and regulatory bodies as well as clinicians.

It was organised by Oliver O’Connor, who was a special adviser to former minister for health Mary Harney.