Chronic Kidney Disease and Mental Health

A series on addressing chronic conditions through mental health care to improve outcomes and the bottom line

Chronic kidney disease (CKD) is a physically exhausting diagnosis for more than one in seven U.S. adults. It’s also a significant cost driver: Medicare alone spent $130 billion in 2018 for people in all stages of kidney disease. Health plans that assist the millions of people fighting this disease understand its crippling physical and financial burdens—yet many fail to address another critical factor at play: the effect of CKD on a patient’s mental wellbeing.

The connection between CKD and mental health 

Studies show people with CKD are almost twice as likely to have a mental illness as the general population (30% vs. 15%). Possibly more concerning: In the same study, individuals with CKD report unmet mental health needs at double the rate of others. In fact, numerous studies suggest a link between CKD and mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety disorders that can decrease quality of life and lengthen hospital stays.  

If left unaddressed, behavioral health conditions in members with chronic diseases result in substantially higher resource utilization and medical costs. A 2019 study, for example, found that members with a chronic illness (like CKD) and a mental health diagnosis cost over 70% more than those without a mental health illness. Given that 37 million Americans now live with CKD, the cost of managing members with kidney disease could easily spin out of control.

Combatting the mental health and growing costs cycle

There is good news, however. CKD and mental health’s interconnected nature presents a prime opportunity for health plans to stop this vicious cycle. With behavioral health support, individuals with early-stage CKD can slow costly disease progression. Members who receive active, integrated support feel motivated to implement the behavior changes necessary to lower costs and improve outcomes.

Health plans must start by identifying members with behavioral health needs. A behavioral health technology solution that provides a feedback loop of members’ wellbeing can give plans data in real-time and enable proactive risk stratification for optimal efficiency and results. Simultaneously, the right solution places members at the center of their care. It eases communication between themselves, their health plans, and their providers using an integrated ecosystem to bridge the physical and mental health divide. 

Keeping crises at bay

The economic impact of CKD on U.S. health plans increases exponentially with each stage of disease progression. With CKD taking a toll physically, mentally, and financially, medical management in isolation won’t cut it; behavioral health must be addressed. Health plans that empower members with behavioral health management strategies and support can hold disease progression at bay, and in turn, keep costs under control.  

Now is the time to improve member outcomes and your health plan’s bottom line by addressing and combatting CKD’s growing mental health challenges.  

This blog is a part of an ongoing series breaking down common chronic conditions and the relationship between behavioral health and overall health and outcomes. Stay tuned for more coming soon!

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