Supporting Members Through Technology
The role of digital health in building support systems and improving health outcomes
December 9, 2020

Financial strain, short days, and cold weather can make managing depression even more difficult during the holidays than normal. In fact, the National Alliance on Mental Illness report shows that 64% of individuals with a diagnosed behavioral or mental health condition report that the holidays make their condition more severe.

As such, caring for chronic care members requires a strategy that addresses not only the condition itself but also outside factors—including potential depression and loneliness—that may be impacting members and complicating their existing conditions. 

The link between depression and chronic conditions

Remembering friends and family who have passed away, or being far away from family, can heighten feelings of depression and loneliness during the holidays. And with the increase in COVID-19 cases and extended social distancing, mental health providers are anticipating steep increases in suicide—with help line capacities rising as much as 300% in some communities already. 

For individuals with chronic conditions, who are often more susceptible to the virus, careful and strict social distancing is key. Yet studies show that approximately 29% of individuals with a chronic condition also have a mental or behavioral health condition, and 68% of individuals with a mental or behavioral health condition also have a chronic condition. 

The stress of forced isolation combined with higher rates of mental or behavioral health diagnoses further puts these vulnerable members at risk for higher rates of depression. By providing social support to individuals, plans and providers can help address the isolation and subsequent these members may face—ultimately impacting their overall health. 

Strategizing around social supports

Building a safe social support system is critical in the strategy to better manage chronic conditions. One study published in the Current Diabetes Report examining the link between social support and Type 2 Diabetes management found:

  • A link between the amount of social support received and improved patient outcomes—suggesting that more support leads to better health outcomes
  • Improvement in diabetes management, med and care plan adherence, and healthy nutritional and lifestyle choices with increased social support 

  • Fewer instances of depression or stress for those with strong support systems

While the exact results varied by gender, race, and socioeconomic background, the overarching theme was this: with social support, outcomes improve. In addition, the study found that while in-person support is great, non-traditional remote support can also be effective in providing a reliable support network for members facing chronic conditions. 

“With the rapid emergence of novel advances in technology, researchers must be mindful of the impact nontraditional neighborhoods, such as mobile texting groups, tablet applications comrades, and online communities, have in providing social support for individuals with T2DM. Access to these modern-day ‘neighborhoods’ may create an environment more conducive for change and positive outcomes. These interactions may improve adherence, diminish socioeconomic and cultural barriers, and generate newfound resources for certain populations.”

Joni L. Strom, MD, MPH Center for Health Disparities Research, Medical University of South Carolina, Charleston, South Carolina

While we can’t magically make it safe for members to visit family and friends again, we can keep members safe while improving their health outcomes by establishing patterns of regular, remote support through technology.

Daily tech touches 

Technology has been key to keeping individuals connected with loved ones throughout the pandemic. Case in point: the popular video conferencing platform, Zoom, made more profits in the first three months of the pandemic than in all of 2019, and has, since then, quadrupled profits since last year. 

But even more effective than the one-off Thanksgiving family FaceTimes in providing member support are small, regular touches from loved ones via technology. 

Understanding this, effective digital health platforms like Wellth are implementing personalized messages of encouragement and praise from loved ones as part of their care plan adherence programs for members. 

For example, a grandmother with COPD who has been unable to see her grandson since the pandemic might receive a recorded video of him encouraging her to take her medications and reminding her why he loves her. Or a busy father who works hard to take care of his family but doesn’t take time to care for himself could receive a message from his young daughter that reminds him that the family wants him to be healthy, too. 

Receiving these small, personalized touches from loved ones regularly strengthens the social ties members have—improving adherence by building intrinsic motivation that will last long after financial incentives stop and boosting overall health outcomes. As one of our members shares: 

“People don’t want to hear sermons. They want to feel support. And when you get the support that you need, it’s easier to stick to your program.” 
-Cynthia, Wellth Member

Watch Cynthia’s story,

Setting members up for success 

Our members don’t want lectures about staying home; they want to be supported as they do so. 

Connecting members with encouragement from loved ones as part of their care plan through programs like Wellth can prove powerful in not only boosting adherence and healthy decision making, but providing that social network that we all need as individuals to thrive. 

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