Guest Column: Chronic disease self-management

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A Winters Express op-ed column

By Wally Pearce, Winters Elder Day Council Special to the Express

The COVID-19 pandemic has given healthcare systems, organizations and physicians the opportunity to rethink delivery of healthcare and prioritize the prevention of chronic diseases. Healthcare system leadership and physician champions can start by setting an organization-wide goal about chronic disease prevention to get everyone on the same page.

Chronic disease is a syndrome that persists for a long time and generally cannot be prevented by vaccines or cured by most medication. Many medical experts contend that over 80 percent of Americans 65 years of age and older have at least one chronic health condition. Health damaging behaviors — such as tobacco use, excess use of alcohol, lack of physical activity and poor eating habits — are major contributors leading to chronic diseases.

According to the American Medical Association (AMA) chronic diseases are just some of the medical conditions lasting over three-months, and require ongoing medical treatment. The AMA also confirms that chronic diseases are becoming epidemic. Most annual healthcare spending goes directly toward treating conditions like heart disease, cancer, diabetes, arthritis, obesity etc. Yet, despite trillions of dollars spent on healthcare, chronic diseases still cause up to 70 percent of all deaths in America.

Chronic health illnesses affect older-adults’ mobility and consequently their overall functional status, balance — and in some circumstances — even their self-esteem can decline because of a dependence on others. These, and other areas of anxiety, may even contribute in a reduction in quality of life. Chronic diseases tend to occur in older adults that are often controlled, but not necessarily cured.

Chronic Disease Management (CDM) is an accepted integrated healthcare approach to managing illness which includes screenings, check-ups, monitoring and coordinating treatment, and patient education. CDM can improve a person’s quality of life while reducing their health care costs for those that have a chronic disease by preventing or minimizing the effects of an illness.

Prioritizing prevention means addressing social determinates of healthcare that affect people where they live, learn, work, play and pray, such as empowering physicians and their teams to identify patients with problematic medical conditions and refer them for proper treatment — including a Center for Disease Control and Prevention-recognized lifestyle change program.

The Chronic Disease Self-Management Program (CDSMP) is an effective self-management education program for people with chronic health problems that teaches skills useful for managing a variety of chronic diseases. It focuses on disease management skills including decision making, problem-solving, and action planning. CDSMP encompasses the oversight and education designed to help people with chronic diseases such as:

  • Cancer
  • Heart disease
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • Lupus
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Sleep apnea

The complete list is extensive.

Individuals with chronic illness often need realistic assistance, as well as vital information, if they’re to become effective managers of their own health. To meet these needs, its essential for people to have at least the following:

  • Basic clinical information about their disease
  • Understanding assistance with self-management skill building
  • Ongoing support from members of their doctors’ treatment team, family, friends and community

Better patient outcomes are achieved through the basic use of evidence-based techniques that emphasize activation, shared goal setting and key problem-solving skills. Also important is the ability to speak freely with a treating physician, or specialist, more frequently will help folks stick with their healthcare plan and to get a better understanding of their health condition.

Having a chronic medical condition can be frustrating enough. But when people don’t know who to turn to for help managing their symptoms, their disorder can become overwhelming.

People working with their primary healthcare provider — whether a specialist or family medicine practitioner — can help lessen worries and make navigating healthcare a bit easier. Taking personal responsibility for one’s health and working closely with their respective doctor is the best way to look after yourself.

Working with their primary physician and taking a few minutes each day to practice self-care makes people feel good in mind, body and spirit, and a better caregiver of themselves. People should always move their physical and mental care up to the top of their priority list; it’s essential.

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