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Navigating Beyond Clinical Care: The Imperative of a Whole Person Approach in Managing Chronic Diseases

The stark reality of managing chronic diseases, such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes, is that clinical care, while essential, is not the sole determinant of health outcomes. The County Health Rankings Model underscores this, attributing a mere 20% of health outcomes to clinical care, while the remainder is influenced by health behaviors (30%), social and economic factors (40%), and the physical environment (10%) [1]. This data is not merely a guideline but a clarion call for healthcare, particularly in the digital realm, to expedite its shift towards a whole person care approach.

Whole person care is not a novel concept, yet its implementation across healthcare systems, especially in chronic disease management, has been painstakingly slow and often fragmented. The model emphasizes not just the biological aspects of disease but intertwines it with behavioral, social, and environmental facets, ensuring that care is comprehensive, continuous, and centered around the individual.

In the context of chronic diseases, where long-term management is pivotal, addressing health behaviors such as diet, exercise, and substance use is paramount. The CDC reports that six in ten adults in the United States have a chronic disease, and four in ten adults have two or more [2]. These staggering numbers are not merely statistics but individuals whose daily lives, behaviors, and choices are intricately linked to their health outcomes.

Moreover, the social and economic disparities prevalent in our society are stark determinants of health. A study published in the Annual Review of Public Health highlighted that socioeconomic factors, particularly income and educational inequalities, are significant predictors of chronic diseases [3]. Thus, healthcare must weave in strategies that address these disparities, ensuring that literacy, financial stability, and social support are integrated into chronic disease management plans.

The physical environment, particularly access to care, is another pivotal determinant that cannot be overlooked. A report by the American Hospital Association emphasized the role of transportation barriers in limiting access to healthcare, noting that 3.6 million Americans miss or delay medical care because of transportation issues [4]. Digital healthcare platforms have the potential to dismantle this barrier, providing virtual care that is not bound by geographical constraints.

Healthcare, as a collective entity, must move with alacrity towards embedding the whole person care approach into its very fabric. It is not merely the responsibility of individual startups but a systemic shift that needs to permeate every facet of healthcare delivery. By integrating tools and resources that address the multifaceted determinants of health, digital platforms can serve as catalysts, propelling healthcare towards a model that is not just clinically sound but is also socially equitable, environmentally accessible, and behaviorally supportive.

In conclusion, the management of chronic diseases demands a departure from siloed care towards a model that is comprehensively interwoven with every aspect of an individual’s life. The whole person care approach is not an option but a necessity, ensuring that healthcare is not merely a provider of medical interventions but a sustained supporter of continuous, comprehensive, and equitable care.


[1] University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute. County Health Rankings Model. https://www.countyhealthrankings.org/explore-health-rankings/measures-data-sources/county-health-rankings-model

[2] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Chronic Diseases in America. https://www.cdc.gov/chronicdisease/resources/infographic/chronic-diseases.htm

[3] Braveman, P., Egerter, S., & Williams, D. R. (2011). The social determinants of health: coming of age. Annual review of public health, 32, 381-398.

[4] American Hospital Association. (2017). Transportation and the Role of Hospitals. https://www.aha.org/system/files/hpoe/Reports-HPOE/2017/Transportation-role-of-hospitals.pdf
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