According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):
- Six in ten adults in the United States have a chronic disease—and four in ten have two or more.
- As much as 90 percent of American healthcare dollars are spent on the treatment of chronic physical and mental conditions.
- Chronic diseases are also a leading cause of death in the U.S.1
These numbers have important implications for healthcare providers in our country as we strive to care for those who seek our services.
What Is a Chronic Disease or Chronic Condition?
Chronic disease is a wide-ranging category that includes heart and lung diseases, chronic kidney disease, stroke and other neurological conditions, dementia, diabetes mellitus, obesity, arthritis, epilepsy, hypertension, and even tooth decay. Many forms of cancer are now considered to be chronic diseases. Chronic conditions are conditions that people live and cope with daily—and are often undiagnosed and untreated.
Adding to the complexity of these conditions are extra contributing burdens such as young age, advanced age, a lack of support systems, poverty, poor access to healthcare services, and underfunding for healthcare. Complicating factors in the acquisition, development, and management of chronic conditions can include healthcare literacy, vision, hearing, educational, and reading levels.
Risk factors for chronic conditions are often lifestyle related. Smoking, poor diet, low physical activity, and alcohol abuse are common risk factors for these conditions, although environmental exposures and genetics can have an impact. Chronic diseases can significantly impact a person’s life—and the life of their family and significant others in multiple ways that include managing the symptoms of the condition, following the treatment plan, arranging the transportation needed for medical follow-up and other services, keeping up with multiple medications with sometimes complicated schedules, planning around special diets, checking in with multiple providers—and managing high healthcare costs. In addition, chronic disease can affect careers, community integration, and mental health.
The Role of Healthcare Professionals in Managing Chronic Disease
Healthcare professionals have a vital role in the care of those with diagnosed—and undiagnosed—chronic conditions, including:
- Educating the public on health promotion for both those with and without chronic conditions
- Leading community screening activities for hypertension, diabetes, cholesterol, weight, vision, and hearing
- Initiating and supporting smoking cessation programs
- Screening for substance abuse issues and advocating for treatment services
- Teaching and promoting physical activities for mobility and health
- Educating about the importance of sleep and sleep hygiene activities
- Educating the person with chronic disease about their condition
Educating Patients on Chronic Conditions
Taking the time to fully educate the person with a chronic condition about his or her disease can help prevent complications and rehospitalizations as well as promote health. It is the responsibility of the entire healthcare team to ensure that education has taken place, identify gaps in knowledge, and consult the provider appropriate to the topic.
Education can be offered in a number of ways, but it must be appropriate to the patient’s age, reading and educational level, developmental level, vision, hearing, language, and access to materials. It is important that the following topics be covered:
- The name of the diagnosed condition, along with symptoms, anticipated tests and treatments, prognosis, and complications
- The name of required medications, along with their dose, schedule, and anticipated treatment time, which might be days, weeks, months, or the patient’s lifetime
- Diet restrictions, allowances, or recommended menus
- Required follow-up, which might include doctor’s visits, therapist visits, blood tests, and x-rays
- Details for the patient to monitor and record accurately, including weight, blood sugar, blood pressure, exercise tolerance, or sleep
- When a patient should return to the doctor as well as when a regular appointment is appropriate versus the emergency room
- Instructions from other providers such as a mental health therapist, which might include self-care or exercise techniques
- Home care instructions, which may include hygiene, medical equipment training, glucose testing, or blood pressure measurement
- Recommended reference materials, which may be found online or provided as handouts or forms and need to be at an appropriate language and reading level for the patient
- Behaviors to promote improved health such as smoking cessation, alcohol counseling, or weight management
- Community resources for support, integration, advice, or health promotion
This might feel like an overwhelming amount of information to communicate, but fortunately plenty of resources are available to assist healthcare providers in this mission, including MedBridge’s new library of Chronic Condition Patient Education resources. Featured conditions include persistent pain, diabetes, and heart failure, and more are on the way! These resources can be viewed with patients during an appointment or assigned as part of treatment program, which patients can then view online at home or anywhere through the MedBridge GO app. For an example, please see the video “What Is Type 2 Diabetes” below.
With the help of their healthcare team, the person with a chronic condition can learn to manage their disease and even slow its progression. They will know and understand their treatment plan and be able to participate as a full team member in their own care. They will have the power and ability to contribute to their own state of health and to do their best to prevent complications and unnecessary costs. They will be in charge.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2019). Health and economic costs of chronic diseases. National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (NCCDPHP). Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/chronicdisease/about/costs/index.htm