What is Disease Management?

doctor talking to patient in exam room
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Definition of Disease Management

Disease management is an approach to healthcare that teaches patients how to manage a chronic disease. Patients learn to take responsibility for understanding how to take care of themselves. They learn to avoid potential problems and exacerbation, or worsening, of their health problem.

  • Example: One step in teaching disease management to a diabetes patient is to show her how to keep her blood sugar levels within a healthy range.

    The concept of teaching patients disease management grew from a desire to improve the quality of a patient's care. In 2005, health insurance companies turned their focus on disease management in an effort to control healthcare costs. The theory was that if patients learned to take better care of their health problems, it would save the insurance company money.

    The Health Policy Institute of Georgetown University noted that 44% of Americans who live at home have chronic conditions and they account for 78% of the health care expenditures in the United States. Better control of chronic diseases could lower health care costs.

    Components of Disease Management

    The Disease Management Association of America identifies these components:

    • Identify the target populations: which diseases should be addressed and how can people with those conditions be enrolled in a disease management program?
    • Establish evidence-based practice guidelines for the conditions that will managed.
    • Build collaborative practice models: In addition to physicians, disease management programs utilize nurses, dietitians, pharmacists and other team members.
    • Educate the Patient: Design a program to teach self-management to patients.
    • Measure outcomes: establish procedures for tracking costs, utilization, health outcomes.
    • Feedback and reporting.

    Conditions Targeted for Disease Management

    These conditions are often ones that are included in a disease management program:

    Effectiveness of Disease Management

    In late 2007, the first reports on cost control through disease management showed that costs were not being controlled. This failure to achieve the primary goal of instituting these programs was alarming. But there were positive results for patient satisfaction and improvement of their quality of life with disease management programs.

    The Medicare Health Support project focused on people with diabetes or heart failure. A report comparing 163,107 patients with a control group found that the disease management programs did not reduce hospital admissions or emergency room visits. There was no savings in Medicare expenditures for these patients.

    However, a randomized trial of disease management for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease conducted by the Veterans Administration found a decrease in emergency room visits and hospitalizations and a cost savings.

    Systematic reviews of disease management programs have not shown consistent cost savings or improved patient health outcomes. This may point to the need to improve the disease management programs so they are more effective for both goals.


    Mattke, S; Seid, M; Ma, S (Dec 2007). "Evidence for the effect of disease management: is $1 billion a year a good investment?" (PDF). American Journal of Managed Care 13 (12): 670–6. 

    McCall N, Cromwell J (2011). "Results of the Medicare Health Support disease-management pilot program". N Engl J Med 365 (18): 1704–12. doi:10.1056/NEJMsa1011785

    Dewan NA, et al. (2011). "Economic evaluation of a disease management program for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease". COPD 8 (3): 153–9. doi:10.3109/15412555.2011.56012