07/10/2013 02:34 pm ET Updated Sep 09, 2013

Better Data Will Lead to Better Care for Those With Multiple Chronic Conditions

Everyone knows someone with multiple chronic conditions. It could be an elderly parent, a favorite aunt, a neighbor, or even a close friend.

In fact, more than a quarter of all Americans ― and two out of three seniors ― have multiple chronic conditions, and treatment for these individuals accounts for 66 percent of the country's health care budget. These numbers are expected to rise as the number of older Americans increases.

Too many with multiple chronic conditions spend their days consulting one specialist after another, with little coordination and communication among their various health care providers. For example, patients may see one doctor for their diabetes, another for their hypertension, and yet another for their asthma. What patients really need, however, is a "medical quarterback" -- a person or a system which ensures that each clinician is aware of all of their conditions and works toward providing each patient the right care and treatment at the right time.

Recent data released in CDC's journal, Preventing Chronic Disease, helps us move closer to this goal, by identifying the prevalence of multiple chronic conditions by sex, age, ethnicity and insurance status.

Understanding such data will help us move beyond our medical system's tendency to treat "one disease at a time," toward better systems of caring for patients with more than one chronic condition. This new data can guide research efforts to explain differences between subgroups, which can, in turn, help inform clinical practice guidelines and quality measures. The data can also inform health professional training programs so that providers are knowledgeable about how to care for common clusters of conditions. Ultimately, this information can be used to help us develop more effective prevention strategies that target particular subgroups most at risk for certain conditions.

In 2010, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) unveiled the HHS Strategic Framework on Multiple Chronic Conditions to serve as a national-level roadmap for improving the quality of life and health status of people with multiple chronic conditions. The Framework guides many ongoing activities across HHS and in the private sector targeting this population to improve outcomes and reduce costs.

For example, the Affordable Care Act has accelerated adoption of innovative delivery models, such as accountable care organizations, to help many Americans with multiple chronic conditions receive improved care through better care coordination.

In addition, the health care law currently helps people living with multiple chronic conditions to receive coverage through Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plans and soon from new Health Insurance Marketplaces, where millions of Americans will be able to shop for health insurance and receive tax credits to make insurance and access to care more affordable.

People living with multiple chronic conditions are a diverse group. By quantifying the occurrence of these conditions by sex, age, ethnicity and insurance status, we can help patients improve their health, ultimately reducing related health care costs, and giving people the care they need and deserve.