Part 5: New approaches to health care

Published: Thursday, Oct. 22 2009 12:00 a.m. MDT

Editor's note: This is the fifth in a five-part series.

Local companies and organizations are looking to new ways of offering health-related services designed to help people avoid the health-care system by changing their lifestyles, attitudes and the information they have access to regarding their health. Examples include:

A local entrepreneurial venture, Alliance Health Networks, has created a new social networking site called Diabetic Connect, designed to connect people online who are affected by diabetes.

The creators believe that discussion about personal experience with controlling sugar intake, recipes that incorporate sugar substitutes, personal stories about experience with specific medications and doses will be of great interest to those with Type 2 diabetes, in particular people looking control the condition through personal self-discipline.

"You can log on, avoid the crowds and the $20 co-pay," said Stead Burwell, CEO. Of course, the site doesn't dispense individualized medical advice or treatment, so the characterization is hyperbole. But Burwell believes there is value in connecting people with similar conditions.

Launched in June 2008, he said the site has 50,000 registered members and is "the largest type of social network for diabetes online." It logs news and articles from around the Internet and aggregates diabetes blogs.

While some may question whether those with diabetes (often older people) would actually do social networking, Burwell said the average age of users is 55 and more than 80 percent are 40 or older. See www.diabeticconnect.com for more information.

Preventive health is the focus of a new facility in St. George. The Dixie Regional Health and Performance Center opened Sept. 1, focused on the philosophy that good diet and exercise choices now provide a healthier life later. The center trains individuals as well as athletes to maximize health and human performance. It also offers rehab services, and help with back pain and insomnia.

Locke Ettinger, director of rehab services, said people who decide to take proactive, personal accountability for their health now — rather than depending on insurance to fund reactive treatment to poor choices later — not only will maximize enjoyment of the life they have, most will save financially in health care costs over time.

Watching town hall meetings across the nation where people are literally screaming about reform, he's seen "passive people pointing their fingers at everyone else when most of them are not eating right, getting out and exercising, reducing stress or reducing the kids' TV time."

Because most insurance plans don't pay for preventive care, "we take better care of our cars than our own bodies. We're unwilling to get a test unless insurance pays for it," which means "we wait to get sick, rather than taking responsibility for our own health."

About 50 percent of health problems are caused by choices that result in disease and about 50 percent are unexpected, he said. Yet 90 percent of government research funding goes to genetics and curing diseases whose origins are unknown.

"A high percentage of cancer can be prevented by diet and exercise alone," he said. For information, see www.dixieregional.org.

Other examples of new ways to approach health or medical issues:

Atria Sandy recently hosted a Wii Bowling tournament for seniors, incorporating the Nintendo Wii as a way to "get exercise, have fun and practice hand-eye coordination at the same time."

While the technology is often associated with teens, seniors enjoyed learning to use it and even competed against members of a similar team from the Draper Senior Center, according to Linda Torres at Atria Sandy.

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