Improving Your Health with Chronic Illness Management
If you have a cold or the flu, you go to the doctor to receive treatment. Once you’re over the sickness, you may not see the doctor again until your next physical or injury. This is called “acute care.” But if you have a chronic illness, you need to be continually vigilant about your condition to keep it stable, controlled, and manageable. For this reason, chronic illness management is an important strategy for the more than 117 million American adults who have one or more chronic health conditions.
“Chronic illness management prevents complications and disabilities through frequent monitoring. It helps to identify problems earlier,” says Ellah Nota, CRNP, a nurse practitioner specializing in chronic illness management at Crozer-Keystone Health System. “It improves the patient’s quality of life, decreases emergency room visits, and gives us the opportunity to collaborate with other disciplines and specialties when the patient needs it.”
What is a Chronic Illness?
A chronic illness is any disease or condition that persists for longer than three months, such as diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, HIV/AIDS, congestive heart failure, anxiety and depression. Simply treating the symptoms of these illnesses as they occur is not a long-term strategy that will help patients improve their quality of life.
The risk factors for some of the most common chronic illnesses – such as high blood pressure and obesity – are in part related to dietary and lifestyle factors. By changing the behaviors that increase the risk of developing these conditions, patients can reduce and control their symptoms. For this reason, a significant focus of chronic illness management is placed on patient education, self-awareness, and self-management of the condition.
Patients Are Encouraged to Be Proactive
“We encourage patients to play a proactive role and be participatory in their care,” said Nota. “We do this through education about medical diagnoses, symptom recognition, treatment, and management. We also stress how their participation and role is critical in managing their chronic illnesses.”
Part of creating this feeling of empowerment and ownership over the disease helps patients develop a rapport with their primary care physician. The doctor encourages the patient to express preferences about treatment options, and the patient is then expected to comply with the plan they created together.
“Patients may have cultural or lifestyle preferences that may mean one treatment approach is better than another,” said Nota. “For instance, if a patient is unlikely to take a certain medication three times a day and there is an option for a once-a-day dosage, that type of preference will be accommodated.”
This requires the patient to be completely transparent and honest about their wants and needs. If the doctor has done a good job of creating trust with that patient, this type of relationship will flourish and chronic illness management will be successful.
“If I had one additional piece of advice for patients receiving chronic illness management, it would be to ask more questions,” said Nota. “There is not a one-size-fits-all approach to treatment, so asking questions and providing feedback can help ensure that you can get the care that is right for you.”