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Report: Tennessee ranks 44th for health outcomes

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Wednesday, December 27, 2023   

A new report highlights what Tennessee could focus on to improve the health of its residents.

The latest America's Health Rankings report ranks Tennessee 44th among states for overall health outcomes. The report found nationwide, diabetes prevalence has increased to 11.5%, affecting nearly 32 million adults.

Dr. Millard Collins, professor and chair of the Department of Family and Community Medicine at Meharry Medical College, an HBCU in Nashville, said in order to ensure people are reaching their full health potential, facilities like his are charged with measuring care gaps in treating and managing such chronic conditions as diabetes.

"What we are fortunate to do at Meharry, we have these other individuals that are not just the providers to call these patients," Collins explained. "To follow up with these patients, to engage them and teach them how to use home blood pressure monitoring and blood sugar devices, so that we can capture these and intervene in real time."

Collins added diabetes is one of the leading causes of amputations among people of color, so services like podiatry and eye exams are especially important. Other challenges listed in the report for Tennesseans include high levels of what's described as "frequent mental distress," multiple chronic conditions and high numbers of smokers.

The report documented disparities in nearly all measured demographic groups in their prevalence of chronic conditions. Collins explained some reasons why people of color may have worse outcomes.

"Access. They just don't have a trusting relationship. And they either have limited access because of their insurance, or distrust of the system also affects the access, serves as a barrier," Collins outlined. "Two, resources, because it's one thing to diagnose someone with a condition, but another to tell them to go and spend $60 or $70 on one medication, when they need seven to control all their heart diseases."

Dr. Rhonda Randall, chief medical officer of employer and individual for UnitedHealthcare, said the new health ranking data reveals more than 29 million adults in the U.S. are living with three or more chronic conditions. She pointed out income and education are both strongly linked to these health challenges.

"Those who make less than $25,000 a year have the greatest number of chronic conditions," Randall reported. "Those who haven't received a high school diploma, have a tendency to have the greatest number of chronic conditions."

Randall also encouraged policymakers to find ways to incentivize people going into health care professions, with so many communities experiencing a shortage of health care professionals.

Disclosure: UnitedHealthcare contributes to our fund for reporting on Health Issues. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.


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