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Why Treating More Chronic Care Patients Requires a Shift in Thinking

The number of patients who need chronic care is on the rise. If you work in healthcare, you know what this means. It means more people battling lengthy illnesses, and increased overcrowding in acute care wards and emergency rooms.

But what if it doesn’t have to be this way? What if a different approach to managing chronic disease can reverse this trend?

Many healthcare professionals are skeptical about new solutions. It’s understandable. Our nation’s care needs are changing quickly. And as the population ages, resources are becoming increasingly strained.

It may seem as though there are no timely, cost-effective ways of solving the problem. But we believe better outcomes are possible.

To improve treatment for patients with chronic diseases, providers need to think differently. Innovation and new care delivery models will make it possible to serve a rapidly-growing number of chronic patients. Healthcare leaders are beginning to make positive shifts.

If you work close to the front lines – as a nurse, care coordinator, or some other practitioner – you’ll play an important role. Here’s how your on-the-job expertise will contribute to this larger vision.

Chronic Care Challenges That Can’t Be Ignored

According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, 3 out of 5 Canadians over the age of 20 have a chronic disease. What’s more, the rate of increase for these diseases is 14% each year.

Our healthcare system was designed to treat patients with acute injuries and illnesses. Most likely, your firsthand experiences confirms this fact. But recognizing a problem isn’t the same as solving it.

A growing number of healthcare leaders are calling for better chronic care. And yet, many patients with conditions like heart disease and diabetes still don’t receive the support they need. The fact is, rethinking the dominant model of care is no easy task.

What do providers already know about treating chronic diseases? For one thing, home is often the best environment for disease management. It’s where most people are happiest. And of course, the costs associated with caring for patients in hospitals and other facilities is high.

At a time when the population is aging rapidly, cost is no small concern.

To achieve the best outcomes, providers need to overhaul the processes through which chronic patients receive support at home. Basic verbal instructions and appointments with specialists who don’t coordinate with one another just doesn’t cut it.

Nurses, care coordinators, and paramedics – any professionals directly involved in providing patient services – have seen the consequences of gaps in care. More often than not, these are the practitioners who struggle to fill them. Sound familiar?

Luckily, there are solutions. Chances are, the organization you work for is considering at least one.

It’s easy to assume that adapting to change will make it harder to take on more patients. But new technologies and care delivery processes have a lot of potential. By streamlining communication around chronic care patients, they’ll provide better results in the long run.

Scaling Coordination Within the Circle of Care

Coordinating services is a major healthcare challenge. And nobody feels the impact of poor coordination more than those on or near the frontline.

The influx of chronic disease means more people will need ongoing outpatient care in the years ahead. As a result, resources will be stretched to the brink. There will be new opportunities for communication errors to occur between nurses, physicians, coordinators, and (of course) patients.

Only a shift in thinking can strengthen chronic care. Healthcare leaders need to find ways of connecting circles of care around patients. They must consider how best to encourage collaboration between practitioners in different locations and areas of specialization.

This challenge is complicated by the growing number of people who need healthcare services on an ongoing basis.

Complications aside, if this transition is skillfully managed, more chronic patients will benefit from comprehensive care planning. And those responsible for coordinating and delivering care will be able to act far more responsively.

Imagine sending and receiving important health information (such as prescription changes and records of increased symptom distress) in real time. This communication is often a patchwork of phone calls and emails. But it can’t be any longer.

When it comes to chronic care and disease management, an organized and systematic way of communicating updates is best.

Digital technologies are very promising. Adopting them is generally inexpensive, and they can be leveraged across vast distances. As a result, these solutions are very scalable. Telemedicine and videoconferencing platforms are good examples.

In a recent post, we mentioned the undeserved reputation nurses have for rejecting change. We believe that as the need for chronic care grows, front line providers will take whatever action is necessary to coordinate services – whether that means adopting new technologies, or embracing policies that encourages collaboration.

Encouraging Disease Management

When it comes to chronic care, patient involvement is critical. In many cases, disease management is connected to every aspect of a person’s lifestyle. Positive behaviours related to diet, exercise, and medication need to be maintained day-to-day.

Healthcare organizations are beginning to educate patients about their chronic conditions. COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) is a good example. Patients who better understand facets the disease – such as the benefits of prescribed exercise – are better equipped to manage it.

Improving follow-up care is also crucial. For too long, healthcare teams have failed to provide chronic patients with adequate care until after they’ve experienced an adverse health event.

Of course, improving patient education and follow-up represents a huge shift in healthcare delivery. Nurses, care coordinators, and others directly involved in delivering care are well positioned to be leaders in these areas.

If you fill one of these roles, you know the needs of your chronic patients better than almost anyone. You know how they can better care of themselves, and you can communicate this information to them.

That said, you’re almost certainly pressed for time. Now, more than ever, there are too many patients and too many tasks that need to be completed.

Perhaps the organization you work for is looking at a systematic approach to encouraging patient self management. If this is the case, you may be able to tackling challenging parts of your job more effectively.

Have you been given new guidelines for interacting with chronic patients? Maybe you’ve been asked to adopt a digital tool that will enable you to connect with them in an instant.

Either way, adherence across your organization can simplify communication within circles of care. And remember: new approaches to chronic care provide opportunities to encourage patient participation.

Making the Shift Towards Better Chronic Care

For chronic care patients, the healthcare system has always held limitations. But now the number of people with chronic diseases is growing by leaps and bounds. This situation won’t improve on it’s own. Now is the time to take action.

As a practitioner near the frontline, you have a valuable perspective for healthcare decision makers. You also have the power to make a difference. Consider the benefits of wholeheartedly embracing solutions aimed at improving chronic care. Only through better coordination and communication can care providers prepare for the challenges of the years ahead.

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