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Loneliness affects people's health—and addressing it could support your bottom line

August 21, 2018

    New research revealed a troubling statistic: Nearly half of Americans are lonely. What makes this news increasingly stark is that loneliness is directly correlated with cognitive decline, weight gain, depression, recurrent stroke, and early death.

    What patient experience says about your medical group

    Select health systems are pursuing innovative approaches to alleviate loneliness by helping individuals develop social communities. These efforts not only improve a patient's quality of life and health, but they can also foster non-clinical relationships with consumers that better position the system to convert consumers to patients when they have health needs in the future.

    Hospitals helping to form social networks

    Providers like CareMore have launched initiatives—including regular phone conversations, home visits, and workout classes—to facilitate interpersonal relationships with seniors, a cohort particularly susceptible to loneliness. Advisory Board's consumer surveys support the idea that older individuals are receptive to social activities:

    • Baby Boomers are staying active longer, with the number of health club memberships for individuals above age 55 growing by almost 519%; and

    • 87% of Baby Boomers cited cognitive abilities as a top concern, prompting interest in cognitive activities. 

    Meanwhile, Sibley Memorial Hospital offers comedy, social activities, and support groups to members of its Senior Association (members are typically aged 50 or older). With a one-time $40 membership fee, members of the Sibley Senior Association have access to exercise and patient support groups, language classes, day trips to museums, current event groups, and dancing lessons.

    Why building relationships with consumers matters

    Programs like CareMore's and Sibley's improve social support for a specific demographic group who stands to benefit the most from it. In doing so, they help reduce the burden of loneliness among a target demographic.

    They also create health system familiarity among Medicare beneficiaries, in the hopes that they'll return to the system if other health needs arise. Additionally, these services can differentiate hospital programs in competitive markets. Cardiovascular strategists, for instance, can launch support groups for women with heart disease; Parkview Health uses such support groups to encourage women to become activated in their care, while connecting them with others who understand their experience.

    Where to start

    Planners should work with population health and patient experience leaders to identify groups of patients who would be prime targets for a social community. Top priorities should be groups for which there are both opportunities to improve individuals' quality of life and health outcomes, and to grow market share.

    Learn more: The business case for investing in patient loyalty

    Our Patient Loyalty Opportunity Analysis explores how your biggest growth opportunity may be your existing patients and reviews the financial implications of loyalty.

    Download the Study


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