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Beyond the Obvious: The Full Price of Diabetes

It’s no surprise that treating and managing a chronic disease is expensive for the people who have them. But what might not be so obvious is that chronic diseases are expensive for those who don’t have them.

And perhaps no other disease is more expensive for society than diabetes. NPR recently published a great blog post about a new PharmacoEconomics study that uncovered a close link between the costs of diabetes treatment and a country’s gross domestic product (GDP). “Our findings underline the fact that diabetes not only has strong adverse effects on people’s health but also presents a large — and at least partly avoidable — economic burden,” says Till Seuring, one of the study’s authors.

The study finds that women in the US with diabetes spend a lifetime total of nearly $283,000 on healthcare. Women’s employment opportunities were also decreased by 50 percent because of their disease, and they lose about $21,000 in earnings per year. (In case you are wondering, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC], age-adjusted incidence for men vs. women with diabetes is about the same: 7.7 vs. 7.5, respectively, per 1,000.)

Regardless of gender, having diabetes is expensive and onerous for patients and their families, and it’s a significant burden to society. The direct costs seem obvious; however, the financial and emotional impacts extend far beyond what one has to pay out-of-pocket and in lost wages. And, while you can argue about the accuracy of some of the numbers – and that comparing across studies isn’t a good idea in general – the aforementioned study and below figures make one thing clear: the economic and human cost of diabetes is high:*

  • Direct medical costs reported by the CDC: $176 billion
  • Indirect costs (defined by the CDC as disability, work loss, and premature death): $69 billion
  • Total cost (including treatment and loss of productivity) reported by NPR: $322 billion, which equates to $1,000 for every American with or without diabetes
  • Medical expenses of people with diabetes reported by the American Diabetes Association: 3 times higher than those without the disease

But how do you put a price tag on the intangibles? Surely there are costs not included in the above figures: time and energy lost to worry and anxiety, sleepless nights, shattered life expectations, buried hopes. Studies talk about loss of work force productivity, but what about the losses outside of the work place that are related to quality of life and one’s passions – one’s personal opportunity costs? What masterpieces won’t be created because diabetic neuropathy robbed a woman of being able to use her hands to paint? Or the avid golfer who can no longer play because diabetic retinopathy has robbed him of his sight? And, what are the best practices for treating patients and motivating them to adhere to their therapies … and to make the hard lifestyle changes needed along the way?

At Communispace Health, we help our pharma and medical device clients fill in the blanks beyond the statistics and uncover the full patient journey: the challenges and impacts, not only for those living with an illness, but for those who treat them and who love and care for them. We identify opportunities where solutions are needed, and co-create those solutions with patients and their families, clinicians, and multiple other stakeholders in the healthcare ecosystem involved in their care. Through listening and exploring with patients and caregivers, we discover new insights that can improve treatment. And through the eyes, ears, and stories of doctors, nurses, lab technicians, and pharmacists, we empathize with the challenges of treatment to incite action.

Every day, we hear inspiring life stories – like this one about a mother’s experience caring for her diabetic teenage son – that help organizations build empathy to really feel and understand the realities of diabetes (and other conditions in our clients’ portfolios). We learn by asking the hard questions and by listening to candid conversations. What is the impact of diabetes on a patient’s relationship with their significant other? Their friends? Their doctor? School? Employment? How do they cope with changes in body image? What is the impact on self-esteem? What changes do they have to make to accommodate travel and dining out?

With the insights gleaned from asking these tough questions, we help our clients become more customer-centric. And, in so doing, we work together to find business solutions that change lives and aim to lower the costs of healthcare for everyone.

*Please note that the above sampling of the cost of diabetes often do not distinguish between the costs of Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes.

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