Financial Stress. Trouble sleeping. Depression. Alcohol use.
All of these impact health, but aren’t typically part of a seven minute doctor’s visit.
Add them to a list of other “unmentionables” such as caregiver stress, unhealthy sex life, work conflicts and it’s a recipe for disaster…as well as an opportunity for clinicians and patients to engage more effectively around non-obvious issues directly impacting health.
Eliza’s Alexandra Drane led the most dynamic (and best attended) session at this year’s Health 2.0 conference.
Drane started a conversation about “unmentionables” at last year’s conference. Participants from all parts of the patient, provider and clinician continuum weighed in throughout the year, so she extended the list.
Drane presented results from several studies to highlight the impact of these issues. One was a study of adult patients in which 94% self-reported experiencing at least one ”unmentionable” issue. Not terribly surprising, given the state of the economy.
What was surprising is that 40% reported having 4-6 issues.
During a deeper dive on financial stress, Drane cited a German study that found higher debt increased the likelihood of obesity by 40%. She emphasized that, “Stress, loss of control, anxiety…these same words are used to describe both health and financial stress.”
AARP’s Chief Medical Officer Charlotte Yeh, also weighed in, referencing a member study in which 26% of men reported that if they had a “good bank account” and high financial security, they experienced a good sex life.
How does all of this impact providers and employers? 81% of people experiencing financial stress and 95% with care giving stress wanted help from their doctor, medical plan, etc. There were almost identical results for employers–as one patient put it, “I don’t care who helps me, I just want help because these things are really impacting my life.”
So what can be done? While there is little the health community can do to change macro factors such as unemployment, there are behaviors that that can minimize (or exacerbate) the impact of “unmentionables”.
Drane detailed how “buffers” (healthy relationships, regular exercise, gratitude) plus “magnifiers” (sleep issues, substance abuse) impact how patients experience and cope with “unmentionables”.
Although there is no clear prescription for dealing with these issues, raising awareness through discussion is a good start. Given the overwhelming response to the topic, this is a conversation that will surely be continued.