The Top 3 Challenges of Managing Chronic Conditions
By Michelle Festa, MD, Family Practice Physician—Virtua Primary Care - Medford Medical Center
Chronic conditions are defined as health problems that last a year or more, require ongoing medical attention and limit daily activities. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, chronic conditions such as heart disease, asthma, arthritis, diabetes and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) affect about half of all adults.
Although each chronic condition has unique symptoms and treatments, the lifestyle challenges can be very similar. Primary care physicians are instrumental in helping patients address these challenges. However, many health systems and medical practices also are hiring specially trained nurses and social workers called community-based health managers (CBHM) to help patients manage their chronic conditions. CBHM services include:
- Coordinating care between primary care physicians, specialty physicians and hospital staff
- Assisting with medication management and ensuring medications are taken as directed
- Answering questions and clarifying care instructions
- Scheduling and prioritizing medical appointments
- Providing referrals for services such as nutrition counseling and support groups
- Identifying needs for home care, transportation and other services
These are the top challenges for people managing chronic health conditions—and how working with a primary care practitioner or CBHM can help.
Managing your medications and taking them properly
People who suffer from one or more chronic conditions typically need a few different medications to stay healthy and may see several different specialists. Multiple medications prescribed by different doctors can confuse patients about how and when to take their medications. This can result in taking improper or dangerous drug combinations.
Providing your primary care physician and CBHM with the most up-to-date medication information allows them to coordinate your care with other medical specialists and hospital staff. To ensure that medication is prescribed and managed properly, it’s important to review your medications with your primary care physicians and specialists at each visit and let them know about any changes.
If you’re admitted to the hospital for any reason, you or a loved one should tell the hospital staff about any medications you’re taking. This can prevent dangerous drug interactions and double dosing. This is especially important if you’re prescribed new medications in the hospital that you need to continue taking after you’re discharged.
Bringing your prescription bottles with you to each doctor or hospital visit is the easiest way to keep your healthcare team in the loop. However, you also can provide a written list of your medications and their dosages—just make sure it’s up to date. If you’re working with a CBHM, you also should provide their contact information to your specialist and hospital staff.
Most importantly, take medication exactly as prescribed and watch for any worrisome side effects. If you have questions about how or when to take your medication, notice new symptoms or don’t see an improvement in your condition within the expected timeframe, contact your primary care physician, CBHM or specialist right away.
Reducing your healthcare costs
Living with a chronic condition can be very expensive. Medications for conditions such as diabetes, asthma, COPD and heart disease are very costly—especially when there’s no generic medication available. In addition, insurance premiums and co-pays can add up because of the number of doctor visits and high hospital admission rates associated with chronic conditions.
Your primary care physician or CBHM can provide information about discount cards, coupons or need-based medication assistance programs to help lower the costs of your prescriptions. They also can recommend lower-cost medications or write the prescription so you can take advantage of mail-order pharmacy discounts.
By assisting you with scheduling doctor appointments, a CBHM can help you receive the right care and avoid costly hospital admissions, emergency room visits or duplicate treatments. And, your CBHM can help you determine what services and medications are covered by your insurance.
Helping you stay motivated to manage a chronic condition
Because chronic conditions are complicated and require lots of treatment, follow-up and medication, it’s easy to become overwhelmed, exhausted or discouraged. Your primary care physician or CBHM can help you stay motivated to work toward getting healthier.
Many chronic conditions can be managed—and sometimes even cured—by following a specific diet, maintaining a healthy weight, exercising and taking medication as directed. Your primary care physician will help you set health goals and your CBHM will follow up with you on your progress and help you take charge of your health.
In addition, your CBHM can make referrals for a range of supportive services, such as nutrition counseling, support groups and weight-loss programs that can help you meet your goals.
When managing a chronic condition, it’s important to ask questions if you don’t understand something. The members of your health care team—including your primary care physician and CBHM—are committed to helping you understand your condition, follow your care plan and improve your health.
To find out more about how Virtua’s primary care providers can help you manage your chronic condition, call 1-888-VIRTUA-3.
Updated July 26, 2018