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Beating Chronic Disease in the Community

by Dr. Matt Longjohn, National Health Officer, YMCA of the USA

Matt Longjohn, MD is National Health Officer at YMCA of the USA, which recently announced a partnership with athenahealth to connect its Diabetes Prevention Program to athenahealth’s 80,000 providers and their pre-diabetic patients. The Y is one of the oldest and largest charities in the nation, with 2,700 local YMCAs operating programs in 10,000 US communities. The Y serves about 22 million people each year in its mission to strengthen community through youth development, healthy living, and social responsibility. I had the opportunity to sit down with Dr. Longjohn to discuss the future of our organizations’ work together. --Caroline Smart, CloudView Editor

CS: Tell me about the Diabetes Prevention Program.  How is the YMCA taking on chronic disease in its communities?

ML: There are 86 million adults in the United States with pre-diabetes. With the Diabetes Prevention Program, or DPP, the Y aims to help many of them avoid developing type II diabetes with our evidence-based, clinically-integrated community programs in over 1,500 program sites and 47 states.

Together, athenahealth and the Y are partnering to raise provider awareness of the DPP so that they can refer their pre-diabetic patients to the program and help address this chronic disease at the community level.  With coverage for the YMCA’s DPP beginning under Medicare in 2018 — and with more payers, employers, and clinicians understanding that the Y has a number of evidence-based programs that can be clinically integrated to address chronic disease risks — we expect to be able to serve hundreds of thousands of people per year via referrals coming to Ys through athenahealth.

CS: What will this partnership look like to Y members? 

ML: This program is for more than just the people paying membership dues to access a Y facility. This really is a program for any adult in our communities with elevated risk for diabetes. So far, nearly 70 percent of the roughly 45,000 people that have gone through the YMCA’s DPP were not Y members at the start of the program. More than half of the 1,500+ program sites for the YMCA’s DPP are outside of Ys. It’s not just Y members that will benefit from this new arrangement. This is truly an effort to build a culture of health.

CS: Why did you decide to partner with athenahealth? 

ML: Technology has supported DPP efforts significantly, but to scale even further, we knew we needed a clinically-oriented technology partner to help clinicians make referrals to the program and to help the YMCA’s thousands of “Lifestyle Coaches” document program outcomes in a single platform in real-time.  

This is important for a few reasons.  First, people who come to us with a referral from their clinician tend to do better in the program. With their consent, the Y can communicate with their clinician and become part of an integrated care team working to help people prevent chronic diseases like diabetes. And when Ys work with clinical partners, they are able to serve more people. Enrollment in the program dramatically increases when either providers or payers refer people to the YMCA’s DPP.

We also needed a partner like athenahealth to be able to live up to increasing regulatory compliance requirements, and to just make it easier for participants and referring clinicians to partner with local YMCAs to leverage our chronic disease prevention programs.

Finally, athena’s history as a company focused on disrupting the status quo in healthcare was also important to us. The Y aims to play a role in transforming our nation’s healthcare system into one that increasingly values prevention.

CS: How might the Y further leverage healthcare technology as part of the DPP program? 

ML: Our work with athenahealth will go far beyond the YMCA’s DPP. We are working with athenahealth to accept data from the YMCA’s DPP, as well as from other evidence-based health interventions. These include our programs addressing arthritis and high risk of falls, cancer survivorship, high blood pressure, childhood obesity, and future programs that are still in early stages of development for things like tobacco cessation, Parkinson’s disease, and even early cognitive decline.

CS: From government agencies to retail clinics, healthcare stakeholders are realizing that social determinants of health are vital to the success of population health management programs. How do you foresee the Y playing a part in this?

ML: The Y is continuing to build on the last 10 years of work at the local and state level to address social determinants of health and to promote health equity. Through partnerships with philanthropic organizations, and in cooperative agreements with agencies like the CDC, the Y has been a partner to 247 local health coalitions advancing health promotion strategies. Ys have addressed food insecurity, housing, walkability and safety of neighborhoods, school and child care policies, and more. As we have scaled programs like the YMCA’s DPP, we have seen local Ys address social determinants of health by partnering with public health departments and safety net healthcare systems, as well as by hiring from within the communities they 





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