All posts by Chad Beyler

Beyond Colonoscopies – 3 Tests to Catch Colorectal Cancer

March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. According to the American Cancer Society, nearly 150,000 people in the United States are diagnosed with this disease each year. It is one of the most common cancers – but also highly curable when caught early.

It has never been easier to screen for colorectal cancer. In fact, there are three different tests readily available – including two non-invasive tests. A fear of tubes, scopes or fasting is no longer an excuse to avoid a potentially life-saving screening. Be smart – here are a look at your three options:

  • Fecal immunochemical testing (FIT) uses antibodies to detect blood in the stool.It’s done once a year and doesn’t require fasting or restricting your diet. You receive a test kit from your healthcare provider, and – from the convenience of your own home – you use a stick or brush to obtain a small amount of stool. You then mail the test kit to the lab (they provide a pre-addressed mailer), where the stool sample is checked for the presence of blood.

  • FIT-DNA testing combines FIT with a test that detects altered DNA in the stool. For this home test, you collect stool and send it to a lab in a prepackaged container. This test requires zero prep and no dietary or drug restrictions. It is done once every three years.

  • Screening colonoscopies are visual exams of the entire colon, using a thin and flexible lighted tube to check for polyps or cancer inside the rectum and the entire colon. During the test, the doctor can find and remove most polyps and some cancers. You only need one every 10 years.

Which Screening Test is Right for Me?

There is no single “best test” for any person. Each test has advantages and disadvantages. Talk to your doctor about the pros and cons of each, and how often to be tested. Picking the right test depends on:

•             your preferences

•             your medical condition

•             the likelihood you will get the test

•             the resources available for testing and follow-up

Most of our plans cover all three of these tests once you turn 50, and there are even multiple types of colonoscopies to choose from. Talk to your doctor, and log into YourHealthAlliance.org for your most current list of covered benefits. You can also call the number on the back of your ID card. If the screening is considered preventive, most of our plans cover 100 percent of the costs.*

Colorectal cancer is an enemy you can fight. Let us be your ally in detecting early warning signs – talk to your doctor and set up a screening today.

Want answers to your top questions about colon health? Click here to view a short video with Dr. Robert Good, DO, Chief Medical Officer (CMO) at Health Alliance and CMO for Population Health at Carle.

  • Want to learn more about health, wellness, preventive services and disease management? Visit HealthAlliance.org/Health.
  • What habits should you follow to keep your colon healthy? Read this article from Sarah Bush Lincoln Health System’s blog.
  • Read more about the importance of colorectal cancer screenings on Memorial Health System’s blog.

*Diagnostic services or additional testing may be subject to coinsurance, copays or deductible based on your plan’s benefits. These additional benefits may not be included in short-term, limited-duration policies. See your plan materials for complete details.

‘The change’ changes women’s heart-disease risk

Few people talk about menopause and heart disease in the same sentence. That should change.

As women age and move out of their child-bearing years, their estrogen levels decrease.

Estrogen, however, does an amazing job of helping prevent heart disease. Estrogen gives good cholesterol more power and diminishes the impact of bad cholesterol on the body. Estrogen keeps veins and arteries pliable so blood flows freely through the body. When blood flow is restricted, blood pressure rises, putting strain on the heart.

Healthcare experts and their female patients should talk about menopause and heart health so women know what they can do on their own and what help their care team can provide.

Knowing your numbers is key. All of these contribute to a woman’s risk of heart disease, stroke and other related health issues.

  • Blood pressure
  • Cholesterol
  • Blood sugar
  • Body Mass Index or BMI

Once women know their level of heart-disease risk, they can work with their care team on lifestyle changes and medication or innovative heart procedures, if needed.

These do-able lifestyle changes can help reduce the chance of having a heart attack.

  • Stop smoking
  • Choose healthier foods
    • Poultry and fish; limit red meat
    • Grilled and baked; avoid fried
    • Blueberries, almonds as snacks
  • Portion control, especially carbs
  • Regular exercise; not just a stroll

One challenge during the years leading up to when a woman’s period stops is that menopause and heart disease boast some of the same symptoms, including:

  • Night sweats
  • Lack of energy
  • Gaining weight

Because heart disease can be deadly, women – and the men in their lives – should know to seek immediate medical attention by calling 911 when they experience these symptoms.

  • Chest pain, pressure
  • Arm, neck, back, jaw pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Excessive sweating
  • Nausea, vomiting

Learn more about heart disease – the number-one killer of women of all ethnicities – from these female cardiologists right here in Illinois.

Plus, you’ll find good advice for focusing on heart health early children, teens and young adults.

Alternative Flour Recipes

Heart Health Starts with One Simple Step

Knowing about heart health and taking action are two different things. Both are important, and you can start both today – for yourself and in honor of American Hearth Month.

Learn three things about heart health here. Each includes one thing you can begin today to start strong. Healthcare experts know small changes matter. You’ll feel successful without being overwhelmed.

Plus, you can add another change once you master the first.

Move toward a heart-healthy diet. We’re learning lean meats and seafood are better than fat-filled alternatives. We know processed items don’t stack up as well as foods in their original format. And it’s true the right fresh fruits and vegetables can help relieve damage from not-so-healthy eating patterns and set us up for success. But where should you start?

Here’s that one thing you can do: Cut down on salt.

It’s easier than you think. Start by looking at the nutrition labels on the foods you eat. You’re likely taking in more salt than you realize. That awareness makes it easier to make smart changes without sacrificing flavor.

Give your heart muscle a workout. It’s that simple. Movement makes your heart stronger.

One thing you can do:Choose how you move.

Walking isn’t for everyone, but it’s an easy place to start. Even better, you’ll feel the benefits quickly. Just 10 to 15 minutes a day makes your heart stronger, your endurance greater and your satisfaction higher.

Avoid tobacco. We discover daily how harmful smoking, chewing, vaping and other ways to use tobacco can be. Our body simply isn’t meant to cope with such foreign substances. Repeated exposure to tobacco leads to heart disease, heart attack, stroke and even death.

One thing you can do: Check out Quit For Life.

It’s worked for millions. It can work for you.

Again, keep your heart-health goals manageable so you don’t get overwhelmed. We welcome you to check out these other heart-focused topics from your friends at Health Alliance.

For help learning about caring for your heart – and taking do-able action that makes a difference – check out these additional tips. Then speak with your care team. Or contact Health Alliance at the number on the back of your member ID card and ask if health coaching or care coordination might be right for you.

Steps Towards a Healthy Pregnancy with Diabetes

Manage Your Pregnancy with Health Alliance Care Coordination

You or your loved one is pregnant. You are eager – and a bit nervous – about bringing a new life into the world. What can you do to ensure that your new baby girl or boy is born healthy? Establishing and maintaining a healthy pregnancy is step number one, and setting up prenatal care should be top priority. Prenatal care allows you to closely monitor your doctor visits, ultrasounds and other testing. This helps you prepare for your journey ahead – easing your worries and helping you focus on what truly matters.

Imagine having access to an extra layer of support, provided directly through your health insurance company. Health Alliance offers just that, through our Prenatal Care Coordination. This free program, offered through your Health Alliance Medical Plan, pairs you with an experienced nurse who helps you navigate your pregnancy.

Nicole McCoy RN, BSN is the prenatal, neonatal and pediatric care coordinator for Health Alliance.  Nicole has been a nurse for 10 years and has extensive experience with high risk pregnancies, neonates and pediatrics in many different capacities. She has cared for patients at their bedsides, attended neonatal deliveries as part of resuscitation teams and has participated in flight and emergency nursing. At Health Alliance, Nicole has helped our members experiencing both healthy and more challenging pregnancies. She provides moms-to-be with expertise and support to reach their health goals. Nicole can answer questions about weight management, proper nutrition and how to understand care plans. She also offers support – and knowledge – for those who are experiencing high-risk pregnancies and complications. Nicole works with our members over the phone, and also in person for those who live in the Champaign-Urbana area.

Interested in working with Nicole? She offers compassionate, caring help with the following services throughout your pregnancy and postpartum period:

Understanding and managing your pregnancy: Many women struggle with understanding certain aspects of their pregnancy, or with common medical conditions that add complications. Nicole works directly with you, providing education and support through your pregnancy and postpartum period. She addresses any concerns that may arise, such as postpartum depression.  

Setting and reaching your pregnancy health goals: No matter what your health goals are during pregnancy, Nicole can assist you. Need help setting specific goals? Need certain supports? Or simply want help staying motivated? Nicole helps you reach the goals that are most important to you.

Assuring there are no gaps in your plan of care: Nicole can check that there are no missing parts to your current plan of care, and she will assist you in addressing needs as they arise.

Navigating your health insurance plan: Nicole can help guide you through certain insurance processes, such as prior authorizations and referrals. She will provide you the appropriate resources or information to make the best decisions for you and your baby.

Finding resources related to your pregnancy and wellbeing: Nicole works closely with experts in other Health Alliance departments – such as pharmacy and social work – to address any related needs.

Working with your obstetrics office: Nicole has a wonderful working relationship with many obstetrics doctors who are Health Alliance providers. She works closely with them to ensure the best possible care for you and your new family. Interested in Care Coordination?  Please reach out to our staff by calling 1-800-851-3379 ext 28947 or emailing Care.Coordination@healthalliance.org.