Navigating Complex Health Care
Approximately one in four Americans is struggling to manage multiple chronic health conditions, and the number is continuing to increase with an aging boomer population. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) defines chronic conditions as those that last a year or more and require ongoing medical attention and/or limit activities of daily living. HHS.gov lists examples including arthritis, diabetes, heart disease, and hypertension. Behavioral health conditions are also increasingly common – these include substance abuse and addiction, mental illnesses, dementia, and other cognitive impairments. In spite of the fact that so many are managing multiple chronic conditions, the health care system is set up to treat patients on a disease-by-disease basis rather than understanding the full scope of an individual’s needs. The consequences of fragmented care spread among numerous health providers include dangerous medication contraindications and conflicting advice.
With an increase in number of multiple chronic health conditions, a person’s risk for hospitalizations that might be avoided as well as risk for dying increases. They are also at greater risk of poor functioning in normal daily routines. These functional limitations can complicate access to health care, interfere with self-management, and necessitate reliance on caregivers.
Tips for Managing Chronic Health Conditions
So if you are trying to manage multiple chronic health conditions of your own, or are assisting a loved one with multiple conditions, what actions can you take to effectively cope?
To begin, making healthier choices in diet and exercise habits can not only prevent some illnesses, but may also prevent their escalation. It’s estimated that 80% of heart disease and stroke, 80% of type 2 diabetes, and 40% of cancers could be eliminated with a change in diet and exercise habits, along with smoking cessation. Talk to your doctor about a diet and exercise routine that’s best for you. If you smoke, take advantage of one of the many free and effective smoking cessation programs available nationwide.
Then, because your health care providers commonly do not communicate among one another, you must advocate for your own care coordination. The best way to do this is to have one physician primarily responsible for knowing the full scope of your condition, and coordinating medications and treatments. This reduces the chance of confusion and potentially dangerous conflicts.
Next, make sure your doctor is aware of all medications you’re taking, including vitamins and other supplements. You may find it useful to do an annual or semi-annual “medication brown bag”, putting everything you take in one bag and bringing it to your doctor to review.
Finally, be sure to adhere to your medication schedule. Since multiple conditions usually come with multiple prescriptions, it’s important to be sure you’re taking the right one in the right dose at the right time. That’s where an app like The Diary™ can be a big help. Not only track your medications in detail, but also set up actionable reminders to help you remember to take them on schedule. With The Diary, you can also stay on top of your entire treatment plan, and easily share it with your doctors and others on your health care team. Clear and regular communication is key to optimal treatment.
As the population ages, remember you’re not alone in this – so, take advantage of the many community resources available to help you manage your particular conditions, answer your questions, and give you support. You’ll also find many resources online. You might begin with this helpful toolkit from HealthinAging.org, “Living with Multiple Health Problems: What Older Adults Should Know”. By taking proactive steps, you can increase the quality of your life now and moving forward.
Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health http://bit.ly/UszobS
Web MD http://bit.ly/1nwN6Jg