Whole Person Care: A Better Approach to Healthcare

two people holding hands in medical setting, whole person care

In 2020, California’s 1115 Medicaid waiver included a $3 billion dollar pilot program with the goal of improving patient care under Medi-Cal by supporting local efforts that embraced the philosophy of Whole Person Care (WPC).

The idea behind Whole Person Care is that it’s better to address all of someone’s needs — environmental, mental, financial and more — instead of solely their physical health. WPC is not necessarily a novel idea in and of itself, but it could be a new, more formalized approach to treating patients across the board that would take into account a greater range of personal conditions and variables.

WPC is founded on the principle that all aspects of a person’s life are interconnected and that they must be considered in order to achieve optimal health and wellbeing. This includes their physical health, mental health, social circumstances, and environment; really all factors of a person’s life.

It requires a team-based approach involving multiple sectors and agencies working together to meet the individual’s needs. This is particularly important as we aim (or at least should) to move toward a healthcare system with a greater focus on prevention over treatment.

The Benefits of Whole Person Care

Whole Person Care has the potential to transform healthcare by improving quality of care, reducing costs, and improving population health. By taking a comprehensive approach to care, WPC can address the underlying causes of ill health and prevent chronic conditions from developing in the first place.

So far, there is ample evidence to show that improved care for WPC enrollees resulted in:

  • Improved rates of follow-up after hospitalizations for mental illness
  • Increased participation in alcohol and other drug abuse treatments
  • Efficient provision of comprehensive health improvement plans
  • Improved results from suicide risk examinations

Developing WPC Strategies

Whole Person Care plans are developed at the community level and are tailored to meet the specific needs of that community. Each community is different, so each Whole Person Care plan will be unique.

However, there are some common elements of a WPC plan:

  1. Focus on vulnerable populations, such as those with chronic illnesses or mental health conditions
  2. Team-based approach to care that includes primary care providers, specialists, social workers, and other support staff
  3. Focus on preventative care and population health
  4. Coordination between medical and non-medical services, such as housing and transportation assistance
  5. Data-driven approaches to continuous quality improvement

Implementing a WPC plan isn’t easy; these are some of the challenges you may face:

  1. Identifying which services should be included in your care plan
  2. Finding providers who are willing to participate in a team-based care model
  3. Getting buy-in from all members (and levels) of the care team
  4. Coordinating services across multiple agencies
  5. Collecting data to track progress and identify areas for improvement

Why the Entire Healthcare System Should Focus on WPC

The philosophy of Whole Person Care acknowledges that human beings are complex, and addressing only one element of someone’s health might not produce the optimal results. To provide comprehensive care, we need to look at all aspects of our patients’ lives, including their physical well-being, mental wellness, socioeconomic circumstances, and environment.

Whole Person Care has the potential to transform healthcare by improving the overall quality of care, reducing costs, and largely improving community health. If you are a healthcare leader, I encourage you to learn more about this important topic and consider how you can implement WPC in your own organization or practice.

Thank you for reading. For more on health & healthcare, please consider giving me a clap and a follow!

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John Kensinger

John Kensinger

California native currently living in Los Angeles after several years in the Bay Area. Follow along to learn more about Health, Learning, and Language.