Working with patients with chronic health issues

September 14, 2016

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One of the most complex and challenging cases that many medical professionals face is caring for patients with chronic health issues. The majority of patients who suffer from chronic health issues live with debilitating conditions that impact their quality of life. It can be even more heart-wrenching when dealing with children and younger patients in their twenties or thirties who have much of their lives ahead of them. Learning how to work with patients with diagnosed chronic health concerns is important as it helps to provide a holistic approach to their treatment.

Common chronic health conditions & their treatment

A chronic illness is defined as a condition that is long-lasting and usually cannot be completely cured. Some examples of chronic illnesses are heart disease, diabetes, HIV/AIDS, multiple sclerosis and kidney disease.

Other common conditions include arthritis and musculoskeletal disorders, many forms of cancer, and rheumatic conditions such as fibromyalgia, to name but a few. In many cases, the affliction is managed with medications and some lifestyle changes, including diet and exercise.

The treatment of chronic conditions covers as many symptoms as there are illnesses. Depending upon the ailment, the patient often lives with physical pain, fatigue and sleep deprivation. Long-term sufferers can also be dealing with balance issues, neurological sensations, tremors, muscle spasms, vision or hearing challenges. As a result, they may have trouble completing basic motor skills.

Some conditions, such as stroke, also face memory loss, difficulty regulating emotions, panic attacks, anxiety and other depressive episodes. And because their illness is chronic, it does not go away. Sadly, the long-term prognosis shows that it progressively becomes worse over time. More often than not, good management of a chronic illness takes a team of professional healthcare providers.

The psychological impact of chronic conditions

Many people dealing with chronic disease become deeply depressed. Actually, depression is one of the most common side effects of chronic illness. Living with a condition that robs you of your ability to enjoy even the simplest things in life is devastating, so it’s not hard to draw a connection between chronic illness and feelings of despair.

Limited mobility, loss of independence and the growing burden on loved ones weighs heavily on the minds of many patients. In some cases, the physical effects of the illness, or even the side effects of the medication used can also lead to mental health issues.

Working with patients with chronic health concerns requires a careful balance of physical, mental and emotional support. Treating the condition with a holistic approach helps to elevate the human at the centre of the suffering. The management of their illness often requires the committed attention of several specialists, working in tandem to ensure the patient has some semblance of normalcy. Remembering there is a human being amid the pain and suffering of a chronic health issue is paramount, and most humbling as a health care provider.


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Gap Medics provides year-round hospital work experience for people aged 16 and over. Our shadowing placements offer a unique insight into the work of doctors, nurses, midwives and dentists – helping students to focus their career aspirations before embarking upon medical training.