Let’s innovate together to help Virginians live healthier lives

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Print this page by Christopher J. Mullins

The challenges facing Virginia’s health-care system are bigger than any one company, individual or organization can solve on their own. Take, for instance, diabetes and obesity, two serious health issues facing Virginia: according to United Health Foundation’s 2012 America’s Health Rankings released in December, Virginia has higher rates of diabetes and obesity compared to most other states. Almost 650,000 Virginia adults have diabetes, and more than 1.8 million adults are obese.

If left unchecked or untreated, obesity will affect 43 percent of adults by 2018 and will add nearly $344 billion in that year alone to the nation’s annual direct health care costs, accounting for more than 21 percent of health care spending. The estimated cost of diabetes in the United States has increased 32 percent — or $8 billion a year — since 2002, reaching $174 billion in 2007. Both are illustrative of trends that are simply unsustainable and highly undesirable.

Reversing these trends, and building a healthier Virginia, requires collaboration across the broad spectrum of stakeholders — individuals and families, employers, physicians and hospitals, insurers, government policymakers, and pharmaceutical and life sciences firms — to serve the public’s health care needs in the most practical, innovative and impactful ways.

Two initiatives that are taking practical, collaborative health care innovation to the next level are the Virginia Health Innovation Network (VHIN) and the Virginia Chamber of Commerce’s Blueprint Virginia. VHIN, a project of the Virginia Center for Health Innovation, is a groundbreaking online community that will enable those on the front lines of health care to identify, generate, evaluate, spread and sustain innovative, value-driven models of wellness and health care. By developing innovations that are feasible today and scalable tomorrow, we can make it easier for consumers to access quality care and resources; connect patients and clinicians in ways that break down traditional barriers to care; encourage informed decisions at the point of care; and promote affordability.

Transforming the delivery of quality, affordable health care is also one of several guiding principles of the Virginia Chamber of Commerce’s Blueprint Virginia initiative. Blueprint Virginia seeks to create a long-term statewide economic development strategy to ensure that Virginia remains competitive in the global economy. Achieving this goal will require Virginia to attract and retain the best talent, and keep them healthy. The discussions that will take place around Blueprint Virginia deserve the full participation of health-care stakeholders across Virginia to establish a health-care framework that serves Virginians in the best way possible.

The goals of VHIN and Blueprint Virginia are consistent with the United Health Foundation and UnitedHealthcare’s commitment to practical, collaborative health-care innovation; improving the quality and cost effectiveness of medical outcomes; expanding access to health-care services for underserved individuals; and enhancing the well-being of the local Virginia communities where our employees live and work. As the nation’s largest health insurer with a network of 500,000 members, 12,000 physicians and 100 hospitals in Virginia, UnitedHealthcare has amassed one of the largest collections of clinical data in the world, and is dedicated to converting it into valuable information that can help people in Virginia live longer, healthier lives.

The United Health Foundation and UnitedHealthcare are proud to support VHIN and Blueprint Virginia, respectively, and look forward to working with Virginia’s health-care community to encourage collaborative conversation, project development and action. Both efforts have the potential to engage Virginians in wellness and health-care innovation; strengthen coordination and utilization of critical health-care resources; and ultimately empower consumers to take control of their health. Together, with the support of Virginia’s health care industry leaders, we can modernize Virginia’s health care system and improve the quality of life for all Virginians.

Based in Reston,  Christopher J. Mullins is executive director of UnitedHealthcare of the Mid-Atlantic and a member of the Virginia Center for Health Innovation’s Demonstration Project Advisory Group.

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