A study of 1,000 cardiac patients has found a strong link between a supportive social network (family, friends and community) and reduced risk of hospitalization. Patients with heart disease who were classified as having a low level of social support experienced three times the rate of hospitalization as those with high levels. Characteristics of a strong support system included having family or friends who help you when you are ill, and being part of a tightly knit neighborhood community.
The research, conducted by Polaris Health Directions under a grant from the National Institutes of Health, enrolled patients treated at five cardiology programs in Pennsylvania, New York and California. Upon enrollment, patients were assessed for their psychological condition, such as depression and anxiety, and asked five questions relating to their social network, including their perceptions of emotional and material assistance from family, friends and the broader community. Patients were then classified as having low, moderate or high levels of social support.
The majority of patients (87 percent) reported that they had friends or family that help them when they are ill. However, fewer than half (48 percent) of the patients agreed that they are “part of a faith or neighborhood community where people support each other.”
Polaris monitored the patients’ health care utilization for six months. The patients classified as having low support (40 percent of the total) were hospitalized for three times the number of nights during the follow-up period as patients with high support (17 percent of patients), and more than twice as many nights as those with moderate support (43 percent).
Dr. Grant Grissom, CEO of Polaris and the principal investigator for the study, noted that these findings are cause for concern.
“Our results are consistent with sociologists’ research documenting the deterioration of community involvement in the U.S. They suggest that social support isn’t just important to quality of life, but to one’s physical condition and healthcare costs as well,” Grissom said.
“Policies to promote community involvement could make a significant impact upon health care costs, and should be part of the discussion of health care reform.”
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