People with chronic conditions spend 99% of their time outside of the doctor’s office. What they do in that time determines the quality of their health—and the cost of their healthcare. That’s why healthcare plans and employers are starting to invest more in “self-management” or chronic disease management programs, according to a recent analysis by Kaiser Health News.

Recent studies of diabetes patients and other chronically ill populations who participated in chronic disease management programs show that these individuals were better off than those who didn’t participate. They had healthier biometric measurements, took their medication more regularly, and were overall better healthcare consumers.

But too few individuals have access to these types of programs. A new HealthMine report found that only 29% of wellness participants say their health plan offers a disease management program. Just 14% said their wellness program helps them better manage their disease.

If your members have a chronic condition–and nearly half of Americans do, according to the CDC–then they are their own best friend. But they must be equipped with the knowledge and the tools to help themselves. That’s where disease management programs come in.

These programs can help members set goals about their own health, provide personalized steps to reach those goals, and reward effort and progress. Disease management programs aren’t just for those with diabetes. Members with heart disease, depression, arthritis and other chronic conditions can benefit, too.

It’s time for wellness programs to do more than offer lifestyle management tools. If you want to empower the members in your population who need the most help, teach them how to manage their own conditions. That will help them become better users of healthcare dollars, too.

[Photo credit: Wiloma on Flickr via Creative Commons.]