Approximately I33 million Americans – 45% of the total American population suffer from at least one chronic disease such as cancer, osteoporosis, chronic health or lung disease or chronic neurological disorders. Furthermore, seven out of ten of these people succumb to death after enduring tremendous pain.1
Providing quality healthcare for people suffering from chronic medical conditions is one of the biggest challenges the US healthcare system has to face – even bigger than providing urgent or emergent care for the more mundane medical conditions. It’s not just the alarming state of human health and disease that’s an issue of concern, but also the affordability and accessibility of adequate and reliable facilities.
And for this reason, it comes as no surprise that nursing is experiencing a boom to meet this continuously growing demand of medical assistance for chronically ill.
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Collaborative Medical Care
Nursing patients with more than one chronic condition poses challenges that eventually lead to interventions though collaborative medical care. That care focuses more on the patient than the diseases.
As part of a collaborative chronic disease management team, nurses are well-trained in patient evaluation and care coordination and can use a wide range of interventions-either face-to-face or over the phone–to provide assistance. Nurses also lend support and influence patients and families in making important health related decisions, including weighing the pros and cons of multiple treatment options and prioritizing healthcare needs and aspects.
Doctors usually spend a considerable amount of time and resources on treating chronically ill patients, and tend to be severely overtaxed for the same reason. However, the number of hours a doctors spends treating a chronically ill patient can never outdo those spent by a nurse working on the same collaborative medical care team.
In research conducted at two healthcare facilities in Southern California, 485 patients suffering from multiple chronic medical conditions were selected for a medical review; 237 (49 %) of them were seen by a nurse working under collaborative care management, while the remaining were seen only by a doctor.2
The study revealed that the number of satisfied patients from the group whose cases had been managed by a nurse and a doctor was higher than those seen only by a doctor. Much of the difference was not only due to the presence of collaborative medical care management, butalso because of the fact that the nurses attending the patients were likely to make far more detailed patient observations, take note of their histories, and perform other assessments more effectively. In other words, they were able to give more time to the patients than the doctors alone.
Improving End-of-Life Care
Managing medical care for patients suffering from chronic medical conditions eventually boils down to end-of-life care. And here’s where nurses working in a collaborative medical care system become even more important, especially in cases where patients want to be home during their final moments.Whether it’s the fear of incurring fractures due to osteoporosis, terminal depression as a result of cancer or coping withchronic disorders such as Alzheimer’s, chronic medical conditions become a lot more difficult for patients and families to manage on their own. In such cases, nurses tend to function as the threads that hold everyone together, by not only lending their medical expertise, but also by providing support to ease those emotionally affiliated with the patient.
Building Better Health
Despite the technological advancements that we are making in the field of medicine and healthcare to tackle chronic ailments, the situation doesn’t seem to be improving at a rate reflective of the investment that is being made in the sector. It comes as no surprise that countries like Bangladesh and Ethiopia are focusing on developing better nursing programs as opposed to investing heavily in finding medical solutions to conditions that will eventually take a toll on health.3
According to James Campbell, Director of the Health Workforce department at WHO headquarters and Executive Director of the Global Health Workforce Alliance, “We need to rethink some of the policies aimed at attracting the best of the best to train and prepare them to serve where they are most needed.”After all, the inability to provide an effective cure can only be countered by the ability
to provide better care.
1. The Growing Crisis of Chronic Disease in the United States. Partnership for Chronic Disease. http://www.fightchronicdisease.org/sites/default/files/docs/GrowingCrisisofChronicDiseaseintheUSfactsheet_81009.pdf
2. Nurse practitioners can play crucial role in treating chronic geriatric conditions, shows study. http://www.news-medical.net/news/20130627/Nurse-practitioners-can-play-crucial-role-in-treating-chronic-geriatric-conditions-shows-study.aspx
3. Developing countries should enroll medical, nursing students from rural areas. Bulletin of the World Health Organization. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/09/140930212156.htm
James Smith is a health and fitness writer currently working for Centra Care Florida, a Tampa Urgent Care Center.