News and Articles

Case Managers and Their Powerful Role in Health Literacy

The Importance of Health Literacy When Facing Chronic Illness

Jenner HeadshotBy Theresa E. Jenner, MSW, LICSW, CCM

Research and anecdotal experience frequently remind caregivers that low health literacy among patients can significantly impact outcomes and increase healthcare costs, especially in the context of a chronic illness. Yet to understand the impact of low health literacy, one must first understand the meaning of the term.

Federal statute defines “health literacy” as “the degree to which an individual has the capacity to obtain, communicate, process, and understand health information and services in order to make appropriate health decisions.” In simpler terms, does a patient understand her illness, its treatment and its progression? Can a patient communicate with her care team when she has questions or concerns?

The National Health Council estimates that 133 million Americans are living with a chronic disease. These people have various levels of functioning in the community. They may be living alone, dependent on caregivers or residing in a long-term care facility.

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Motivational Interviewing an Essential Skill for Care Managers

Good Training Needed for Case Managers

Case Manager Phone Conversation

People with complex medical needs face myriad challenges when it comes to following the “do’s and don’ts” designed to help manage their chronic conditions and avoid painful exacerbations and costly hospitalizations. A growing body of evidence suggests there may be a better way.

Multiple studies show motivational interviewing (MI) is an effective tool for eliciting behavioral change across a wide spectrum of healthcare challenges—and that good training is needed to equip care managers and other professionals with the MI skills that can help patients resolve ambivalence and achieve their goals.

Empathy and compassion are cornerstones of MI, which utilizes a series of steps to guide patients through stages of readiness. In MI, patients do most of the talking, while providers engage in reflective listening and other techniques that helps patients identify what behaviors they want to change, and how they want to do it.

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Studies Show Relationships are Vital to Effective Care Management

It’s all About Relationships: How Care Managers Can Increase Patient Activation, Lower Healthcare Costs

Case Manager Meeting with PatientCommunication, trust and mutual respect are important in any relationship, and that’s certainly true in healthcare. Patients with complex needs or chronic illness who feel heard, valued and respected by their care managers are more likely to take an active role in their own care, leading to improved outcomes and lower costs, research shows.

The authenticity of the care manager-client relationship—how genuine and consistent the patient perceives the provider to be—also makes a difference, some studies have found. And though learning how to build relationships takes time and training, the investment pays off in several ways.

For instance, a 2013 study published in Health Affairs looked at 33,000 clients in a large healthcare system and found that costs were 8-21 percent higher for clients with very low activation levels compared to costs for clients with the highest activation levels. What leads to higher activation? Relationships.

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