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Managing the Emotions of a Chronic Illness #patientchat Highlights

Last week, we hosted an Empowered #patientchat on managing the emotions of a chronic illness. The #patientchat community came together for an engaging discussion and shared their best advice and tips.

Top Tweets and Advice


Step One: Acknowledgement


Emotions Aren’t “Negative” or “Positive”


“We all deserve the freedom to express feelings all the time”


Full Chat

F Words in Rare Disease

A dad I know recently posted a photo and shared his excitement on Twitter about a new set up for his bike with a trailer for his son. Its overall purpose being an opportunity to do more stuff together as a family. I wholeheartedly shared in his excitement as I too had been putting money aside to find more opportunities for my own family to get outdoors more. Both of us are parents of children who were born with a rare diagnosis. Our kids have different rare diagnoses, but like all families we are eager to connect with the greater world around us and share it with our kids however we can.

My own kiddo is going to be thirteen this year, and we are at a turning point in the discussion of overall health. We are off-book and off script as there’s nothing that clinically describes this age range for his specific diagnosis. Anecdotally, he seems to be following his own trajectory for some inexplicable reason deviating from other children I know with this diagnosis. I’m at the hospital more professionally than I am as mom of a patient which to some audiences the reaction is, “Yay! Your family gets a break! So everything is fine now, right?”. The reaction from fellow parents of palliative patients is, “I’m so sorry”, because they realize the fight is over. That life is going to do whatever it is its going to do. The hospital is still there if you need them, but your frequent family vacation time at “Club Med” is to be replaced with a new family dynamic and new identity as take a go at life more on your own.

Health care is quickly deviating from textbook, generalized care to something highly individualized. This in theory is a great concept but is extraordinarily multifaceted in its impact on patients affected by rare disease. As someone who manages a support group of over 800 patients and caregivers from my home province, I find a deep desire to ask in some capacity whether we are prepared for the pace of advancement. A long-term goal I have in mind is to create a biopsychosocial assessment of the needs of families. For now, I can say for as much new information as I bring to the proverbial table, it’s so often met with, “How do I fit this into my complex world?”.

I hesitate to use the term ‘finding balance’ at all, because if there’s one thing I think many of us rare patients and families experience is more of a need to manage random health chaos. The status of my own family can shift on a dime and you have to learn to be very much ok with that because you have no other choice than to.

So how does one even begin to manage understanding how to frame your life and all the decisions you have to make? For a little over four years, I’ve been working as a parent researcher and engagement facilitator with a focus on the subject of childhood disability. One concept we often speak on is the World Health Organization’s International Classification of Functioning, Disability Health. A simplified version of a very technical document is called “The F Words in Childhood Disability”. Now these are concepts that I wish to argue merit for as a way to create form to thoughts and efforts that you are probably doing already. At the same time, it can become very validating and empowering to realize that current evidence points to the fact that you are already on the right track. These are ideas upon which a potential framework can be created in your own mind as to goals that can be accomplished, or a way to weigh decisions that need to be made. We are often so focused on the burdens of disease, that we need a compass of sorts to point us back to the idea that life is happening around us and time can often be a precious commodity. They are six words that reflect the story that’s unique to you or your family and nobody else.

Function

There is often a need to perform tasks in ways unique to their own abilities. If independence in some areas can be fostered, we need to be able to honor that.

Family

Family isn’t always about people you are genetically related to. People react to the idea of illness very differently and in some cases, you need to seek community and “family” elsewhere. Regardless, the people in your life that you surround yourself with are people that are important to you. It’s important to listen to them as they know you best.

Fitness

As a post-cancer “spoonie” myself, I often bristle a bit on this subject. Between my own struggles with energy and the physical impact of caregiving, I’ve found it difficult to find the energy to be healthy. However, your story isn’t my story and in reality it can be intensely difficult to find ways to be healthy. In the area of rare disease, I think health becomes a broader term by definition: overall health takes on many forms be it mental or physical health. We often term health as some sort of fitness guru Instagram aspiration, but sometimes overall improved health comes from even the tiniest of steps and even the little efforts deserve to be celebrated in a huge fashion.

Friends

Existing around peers can take on many forms, and in order to do so sometimes we need to be brave and reach out to others for more accessible ways to connect with friends. What can’t be ignored is a human being’s overall need to connect with other people as we learn and grow together.

Fun

In a world that can be taken up so much with appointments and treatments, its so important to stop every now and then and have fun, be silly, briefly escape the world and just plain live. Fun can take on so many different things.

Future

So much definition of future is often left to the financial planners of the world in regards to careers, academics and whatnot. Sometimes the future is only planning ahead 15 minutes at a time or a week from now. As hokey as it sounds, with age I’ve begun to see the value and emotional weight the phrase “one day at a time” holds in my life. I’ve been asked more times than I can count as to how I picture my family’s future. My response remains that I really am not gifted with that luxury, ask me what I’m working on for tomorrow.

I have seen these terms be threaded through my life in so many ways. Sometimes you are only focusing on one F word at a time and there’s no judgement in that at all. I like any other mom am someone who struggles with whether or not I’m doing a good job. I think the gauge by which I measure this is probably unique to my own personal story but I know that I am not alone in this feeling. I feel though with the F words, I have a more confident platform to stand on not to be his voice but to be his microphone. There’s so much I can’t control in life but as his mom I want to help him own every second as his life to live. So in celebration of birthday number 13, we’re taking “fun” as our next goal and bought a bike trailer too! I know he’ll love it.

Four-Legged Physicians: How Dogs Can Aid Patient Therapy

Dogs and humans have shared a special bond for over 12,000 years.  Clinical research has shown that dogs increase quality of life, finding that those living alone with a dog have a 33% decreased risk of death.  A study published by the Complementary Health Practice Review also found that pet owners are likely to have lower blood pressure, better cognitive function, and decreased anxiety than their non-pet owning counterparts. For those fighting a long term or chronic illness, spending time with a dog can have broad health benefits for both the body and the mind.

Mental Health

A long term hospital stay is difficult for patients, particularly those in critical care units.  Even physicians with exceptional bedside manner can only do so much to mitigate the clinical nature of a hospital room. A study published in Critical Care shows that animal therapy can help ICU patients overcome the mental health issues associated with an extended hospital stay.  Bringing in a dog to engage with patients breaks up the monotony of the hospital, and improves mood. 74% of pet owners report improvements in mental health, showing that dogs lessen feelings of loneliness and isolation.

Dementia And Alzheimer’s

Patients in nursing homes go through many of the same problems as those battling in an ICU.  Nursing homes pose a particularly great challenge for those with dementia and Alzheimers, as unfamiliar settings and faces can cause distress.  A promising study published in the American Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease and Other Dementias shows that dementia patients enrolled in animal-assisted therapy had decreased levels of agitation and greater social interaction than a control group.  Notably, many of the patients involved in the study had owned dogs in the past.  A key part of treating dementia-type disorders is involving patients in activities that they have enjoyed over the course of their life.  For animal lovers in nursing homes, playing with a dog for even a few hours a week can have a massive impact on their quality of life.

Exercise And Physical Fitness

Most dogs are seemingly boundless, furry balls of energy – particularly high energy, social breeds such as Black German Shepherds. Walking and playing with a high energy dog is necessary for their happiness, and comes with the obvious benefit of weight loss and a decreased chance of diabetes for people as well.  The benefits of playing with a dog can be much broader than weight loss. Exercise is a vital part of physical rehabilitation, and has shown to cause remission of major depressive disorder on par with antidepressants in clinical trials.  Coupled with the effort required to keep them healthy, a dog can give a person recovering from an illness a greater sense of purpose, which helps patients mentally as well as physically.

Registering a therapy dog requires a bit of work, but is a worthwhile vocation for both dog and owner.  While medications and in-patient care are necessary for many illnesses, a visit from a dog can help make the arduous process of getting healthy a little less taxing and far more rewarding.

5 Ways to Have a Productive Day with a Chronic Illness

“Having a productive day is very subjective; what is productive for one person is not for another”.

Some days, I find waking up, washing and eating productive. Others assess,  I am being productive when I  do University work.  What I have noticed though – is we all have tasks that need to be completed and this can send us into panic mode. The vicious cycle, of where to start and where to finish has a ripple effect – like a child who got denied candy at the fun fair.

If you are someone sat there reading this with a chronic illness, I am sure you have an inkling of the cycle I am talking about. If you don’t well… I sit here, in envy.  What I am going to call the ‘ torrential storm cycle’ makes you question which direction to go in first.   Anxiety and stress are no strangers, crawling around your body, taking its toll , physically and mentally.  This post is designed to stop you in your tracks, so you aren’t continuously interrogating yourself about ability and self-worth.

“I spend 90% of my time in bed, but a chronic illness does not mean accomplishing your goals are not possible”.

Achieving those goals may just take comprise, planning and longer than you anticipated.


5 Ways to have a Productive Day with a Chronic Illness

1. Evaluate tasks ft. the spoon theory

If you haven’t heard of Christine Miserandino’s Spoon theory , it is a great place to start to help you have a productive day.  The theory in a nutshell, is that anyone who is chronically ill has 12 spoons each day (each one resembling energy) and spoons are exchanged for tasks.  The amount of spoons exchanged will depend on factors such as the length of the task and how strenuous. The point here, is spoon must be used wisely so you don’t burn out. By ordering tasks by importance you can identify what needs to be done on what day and start to put a plan in motion.

spoon-theory-e1510325926400.jpg

In reality, you may find executing a plan is not always possible. However, the spoon theory gives you a general consensus of how much you can get done in a day.

You may find – once you start having a productive day you are at the opposite end of the spectrum. At Uni, I get told a theory is just that a theory. I am taught to challenge theorists view. So it may not be a surprise to hear I wasn’t a firm believer of the Spoon theory at first.  I was so productive one day I felt on top of the world. I couldn’t believe my eyes. I had completed an exam, handed in an assignment, found a job, booked a flight, travelled home from Uni and packed for a holiday and cuddled my little bunny.

Shortly, after this semester came to a close – I realised I used the reserve of spoons for months. I had to fly home 3 weeks early from working abroad, quit the job I found and was  behind in every subject at Uni. Barely, attending lectures and hospital appointments.  What I am trying to emphasise, is pushing yourself one day really can have a detrimental effect on your health.

“You need to work out what is realistic to get done in a day for YOU”.

 Which takes me to by next point…


 2. Break down tasks

 Breaking down tasks makes things more manageable.  Something,  I am training myself in like a disobedient dog. I am one of those people who seeks to think holistically to even do a task.  However, breaking down tasks can relieve stress, because you know you are achieving something – which has got to be better than nothing, right?

goal

I have found people have been more understanding about my illness when they can see that I am trying rather than wallowing in self-pity.  The amount you need to break-down a task will depend on its complexity. It may be a case of trial and error, but you know your body better than anyone in time you will have this down to a tee.

If it’s something academic, you could try and break things down with titles and research areas and tie the ideas together later.  You may not get the best grades you are used to due to time constraints.  However, at least you will pass and can try and work harder when you are feeling a bit brighter on future work. If the task is practical, like cooking, you could do prep at a certain time and then cook later in the day.  Or if you’re a little bit cheeky – ask someone to help you to make the task manageable.


3. Follow your Body Clock

Most people would say, sort out your body clock first and foremost. It may work, but it is something I have been trying to do for over 10 years. My body just likes to be up during the night. The fatigue and pain is more manageable after I have digested by one meal per day.

“To have a productive day you must follow your natural body clock”.

You don’t want to set yourself up for failure by taking a U-turn and trying to achieve tasks when your energy levels and pain threshold is low.

body clock

“Remember you can always move tasks to another day as long as you’re motivated to accomplish them”.


4. Relax… just not too much

Whether you have a chronic illness or not, everyone should take time to wind down.  If you’re fortunate enough TAKE a bath, or go and visit someone who does! Watch a comedy, listen to music or sit in silence, do what works for YOU. I am not saying you are not going to wake up still feeling fatigued because you probably will BUT subconsciously your body and mind is still getting a valuable break and you get a hint of happiness.  I find relaxing whilst doing a task slowly usually gives me the right balance. However, this may not work for everyone.

“Just remember, don’t relax too much or you won’t get anything done”.

bath.jpg


5. Relieve stress with a pet

Patting pets are proven to having a calming effect on humans (Rodriguez2012), which may help you to think more clearly and be more productive! It is ideal if you own a pet and go and give them love when you are stressed and they are in a good mood. If your pet is moody, trust me try hugging your friends’ pet or the other four tips AND come back to this one later.  When my pets are hungry they treats me like food and it makes me feel rejected and has the opposite effect.  If you cannot keep an animal, I suggest you look out for the nearest dog on your walks or go visit an animal shelter. That way you can have your rare day out, killing two birds with one stone.


This blog was written by Morgan Shaw and originally posted on her blog, Brains & Bodies, here.

Everything You Need to Know About Dating with a Chronic Illness

If you live with a chronic illness like pulmonary fibrosis, diabetes or Crohn’s disease, your dating life is going to look a little different–and that’s okay. Being single and navigating the world of dating is challenging for everyone, but it can be especially difficult when your life comes with complications like needing to pack medication every time you leave home for more than a few hours.

Finding someone who shares your interests and who will support you through life’s ups and downs takes time, so be patient and have fun. Whether you choose dating sites, singles events, clubs or meetups, putting yourself out there will help you find that special person who will love you unconditionally–even on your worst days. If you are single with a chronic illness, follow these tips to make your dating journey a little easier.

Be Upfront About Your Illness

Deciding when to disclose your illness to a potential romantic connection is entirely up to you but consider telling them about it at the beginning of your interaction. It can be difficult to open up about something so personal to a stranger you don’t know and trust, but it can help you weed out people who aren’t worth your time. If someone isn’t going to accept all of you and love you the way you are, that person isn’t worth dating.

If you are anxious about discussing your illness with a date, why not use technology to your advantage? Tell them about it over an email, text message or phone call. People’s first reaction when they find out about your illness may be shock or discomfort, so allowing them time to unpack that information before you sit down for a date can help you both decide if moving forward is right. Plus, by the time you meet up, they’ll have had a chance to let it settle and come up with meaningful questions they have about your illness and how it affects your life. Being upfront is scary, but it’s an incredibly helpful dating tool.

Highlight Your Best Assets and Don’t Be a Victim

You’re going to be just as self-conscious on a first date as anyone, so practice the best piece of dating advice out there and play up your best assets! If your illness has caused some weight loss or weight gain, go shopping for an outfit that fits great and highlights your favorite body parts. Experiencing hair loss? Try a cool hat or an updo. Figure out what you love most about yourself and play up those areas while minimizing the things that make you feel self-conscious. Confidence looks hot on everyone.

People are going to follow your lead when it comes to your illness. The more relaxed you act about it, the better they will feel about it. If you are sad about it, they will feel sad about it. Lead by example and don’t walk around holding up a sign that says you’re a victim. You’ve got to love yourself before anyone else can love you–with or without a chronic illness.

Be Willing to Adapt

Things aren’t always going to go as planned, so adaptability is key to avoiding some of the frustrations of dating with a chronic illness. You might have just spent hours getting ready for a date and then realize you need a nap. That’s okay. Sometimes your significant other may want to do something your body won’t let you do. It’s going to be frustrating at first, even embarrassing. But once you and your partner learn that plans will sometimes change, you’ll see that it doesn’t need to affect your relationship negatively.

If you have dietary restrictions, consider alternatives to the dinner date. We tend to have it hard-wired into our brains how a date should look, but quality time can be spent in many ways. Do something outside, enjoy the arts, see a movie and pack your snacks from home. Who cares if your dating life looks a little different than it does in cheesy romantic comedies? Life happens and the more willing you are to adapt, the better you can love and be loved.

Don’t Overdo it and Laugh it Off if You Do

Adventure sports or extreme roller coasters might not be the best first date ideas if you live with a chronic illness. Don’t pretend like something is fine if it’s not. If you have a migraine, you’re not going to have fun at a rock concert, and if you are miserable, your date isn’t going to have fun either. It’s better to be upfront about how you are feeling and what you can do than try to tough it out and deal with the consequences later. Pretending isn’t fun and it’s not a good way to get to know someone.

When you do find yourself in a less-than-ideal situation, remember to laugh it off. You’re going to fall sometimes or need to sneak away to give yourself medication or treatment in an awkward way. Don’t take it too seriously. There are many circumstances you go through with a chronic illness that are silly and it’s best to laugh about them rather than make them a big deal.

 

Recognize When They Aren’t Worth Your Time

Some people just don’t have what it takes to handle someone’s health issue. Some people lack empathy or don’t have the willingness to nurture others. If someone is insensitive, rude, describes you as “difficult” or their lifestyle contradicts yours, you need to let them go. People who are worth your time and energy as a friend, let alone a potential romantic partner, will understand that you have good days and bad. They won’t ever fully understand what you go through, but they’ll want to try. They’ll be respectful, supportive and loving.

Remember You Are Worthy of Love

Don’t define yourself and your personality by your illness. You are a person, first and foremost, who happens to be sick. When you stop thinking of yourself as an illness, others will, too. You may have certain limits in life, but that doesn’t make you less worthy or capable of love. Not by a long shot.

 

Chronic Illness: Oh, the Stress of It All!

(Melissa is a patient, advocate, and runs her own website www.curegp.com)

Everyone must deal with stress from time to time, and that is not necessarily a bad thing. Stress can actually be beneficial when it is short-term and low-level. It can boost your energy and memory, act as a motivator, and even enhance your physical strength. But those of us with chronic illness often battle prolonged stress, with few or no breaks, and this can be quite detrimental to our health. There is a growing body of evidence that indicates this type of stress can lead to serious health issues such as heart disease, migraines, stomach problems, high blood pressure, and depression. In order to avoid, or at least minimize these possible risks and effects, it is important to know how to recognize and manage potentially harmful stress.

Coping with stress can be particularly difficult for those of us living with chronic illness because of its long-term and serious nature. It comes with additional stressors that most other people do not face, and there is rarely a respite from these. Diagnosis is often accompanied by fear, confusion, and disbelief. Some of us experience apprehension because we feel we have not been given a proper initial explanation of our condition or enough information to manage it effectively. Conversely, there is commonly an overload of information to process regarding our numerous medications and the complex medical routines we must follow. We are often shocked by the overwhelmingly difficult lifestyle changes required of us. Upon initial diagnosis, many of us are confused and upset about the nature of our illness, its causes, its symptoms, our prospects for treatments or a cure, and the measures that will be required of us to accommodate the effects of our illness. We fear what the future holds.

There are other complications that concern us as well. It can be difficult to find a doctor who can (or will) treat us, and we must sometimes interact with several different physicians who manage our care. On occasion, we receive conflicting advice and recommendations from the medical professionals providing for our treatment. In times of medical crisis, we face decisions about whether it is appropriate to treat our illness at home, see our doctor, or perhaps visit the emergency room. Many of us struggle to find medications and treatments that work for us and must determine this through trial and error. Once we find helpful medications and treatments, we may face difficulty in gaining access to them and at times must battle with insurance companies who deny us coverage or physicians who hesitate to prescribe them. It can all be pretty overwhelming.

In addition to the hardship of dealing with the day-to-day management of the actual symptoms themselves, there are long-term concerns. Severe symptoms can eventually interfere with one’s social life and even jeopardize one’s career. Friends and family members may have unrealistic expectations about what a chronically ill person is capable of, and often, we ourselves have these same unrealistic expectations. We are regularly too sick to participate in social activities, and we feel much guilt over our withdrawal from social functions and gatherings we once found enjoyable. We may begin to feel increasingly cut off and isolated from the friends and family members we once knew. If serious enough, symptoms can result in missed days of work and eventual unemployment, which can lead to monetary woes. The loneliness, seclusion, and financial strain associated with these factors act as additional stressors and make it all the more difficult for those of us who are chronically ill to cope.

Indeed, life with chronic illness can be burdensome and stressful. Nonetheless, there are methods of averting or minimizing many of the factors that contribute to our stress. For starters, we can make an effort to prevent stress from occurring in the first place by educating ourselves. Searching the Internet, reading articles, asking questions of our doctors, and seeking out others with the same condition helps provide us with insight into our illness. It minimizes the fear of the unknown that accompanies our diagnosis and gives us an idea of what to expect in terms of symptoms, treatments, possible complications, and prognosis. It helps us recognize what is “normal” for our condition and what is cause for concern and aids us in preparing for what might be coming down the road.

We can also do our best to maintain a healthy lifestyle. (I am not suggesting we can attain perfect health; I am simply recommending doing whatever we can to be as healthy as possible given the limitations of our illnesses.) This might mean taking vitamins and supplements, exercising, making the most nutritious food/drink choices possible, getting adequate rest, and taking our medications as recommended.

In addition, we can work toward strong mental health. Rather than expecting “perfect” lives, we can focus on the good we have and be grateful for the small, joyful moments. Likewise, we can learn to manage the circumstances in our lives that can be governed and adapt to the ones beyond our command. (We may not be able to attend courses on a college campus, for example, but perhaps we can take online classes. Maybe we cannot make it to the movie theater, but we can view videos in the comfort of our own homes.) We can also forgive ourselves for our perceived shortcomings and pardon others for not acknowledging our limitations. We cannot control missing an event due to illness, but we can refuse to feel guilty and accept that we cannot “will” ourselves to be well. Our illnesses are real, and they come with genuine physical limitations.

Finally, we can learn to recognize the signs of harmful stress (i.e., mental confusion, anxiety, worry, depression, fatigue, altered sleep patterns) and seek help when we feel discouraged and defeated by joining support groups; talking to trusted friends, family members, and neighbors; or pursuing professional counseling. We can engage in pleasurable activities – such as reading, writing, listening to music, playing board games, etc. – that momentarily distract us from our debilitating symptoms. We can read encouraging books or practice relaxation techniques like yoga and meditation. We can ask loved ones for assistance or consider employing home helpers/aides to lend a hand with household chores or other tasks we have difficulty completing. Perhaps we can identify government and charitable programs (for prescription aid, low-income housing, reduced-cost medical care, and the like) that might ease our financial burdens.

We may not be able to entirely avoid the stress that results from our complicated and sometimes overwhelming circumstances, but we can learn to manage it. As chronic illness warriors, we face a constant, daunting battle against stress – but it is not one we must necessarily lose.

A Person Centered Approach To The Care Of Chronic Illness

The World Health Organization has called chronic conditions ‘the health care challenge of this century’. According to the latest figures released by the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention about half of all adults have one or more chronic health conditions; and one of four adults have two or more chronic health conditions. Long-term diseases, such as heart disease, stroke, cancer, type 2 diabetes, and obesity are the leading cause of mortality worldwide and are estimated to be the leading cause of disability by 2020. A landmark paper, published on 9 July 2016 in Nature Reviews, reports the prevalence of global diabetes has been seriously underestimated by at least 25 per cent.

These figures are alarming, but what is equally alarming is that despite the prevalence and seriousness of the situation, our medical system is not structured to adequately respond to chronic illness. Our current health systems are designed to prevent, diagnose and treat acute medical conditions. The problem is not that people with chronic diseases do not receive care; rather, the acute care model ignores the fundamentally different approach that is needed to care for people with chronic conditions. Furthermore, this model leaves little room for the psycho-social dimensions of chronic illness; it addresses parts of diseases or small sub-parts of the body, but it does not address the person in a holistic way.

How can we begin to address this disconnect in a healthcare system which cares for pieces of people, rather than the whole person?

I believe the answer lies in adopting a person-centered approach to the care of the patient (while you may find the term patient-centered care is more widely-used, I prefer to use the more all-encompassing person-centered care as it focusses on the whole person). Describing the person-centered care approach, Dr Ronald Epstein, MD and Dr Richard Street, PhD characterize it as one in which “patients are known as persons in the context of their own social worlds, listened to, informed, respected, and involved in their care.”

Providing care that is respectful of and responsive to individual patient preferences, needs, and values, and ensuring that patient values guide all clinical decisions, was recognised as a dimension of high-quality health care in the 2001 Institute of Medicine (IOM) report Crossing The Quality Chasm; An New Health System for The 21st Century as one of six quality aims for improving care. The IOM report drew on research conducted in 1993 by the Picker Institute in conjunction with the Harvard School of Medicine 1 which identified eight dimensions of patient-centered care.

These eight principles provide a roadmap for a person-centered approach to the care of chronic illness.

1. Respect for patients values, preferences and expressed needs

A fundamental tenet of person-centered care concerns putting people and their families at the center of clinical decisions. Each patient brings his/her own unique preferences, concerns and expectations to a clinical encounter and these values should be integrated into decisions if they are to serve the patient. Patients have a right to be part of the decision making process. This is best achieved through the model of shared decision making, the conversation that happens between a patient and their health professional to reach a healthcare choice together. At the very heart of shared decision making is the recognition that healthcare providers and patients bring different but equally important forms of expertise to the decision-making process. Patients and their families will bring their experience of living with a disease, their social circumstances and preferences. This is particularly relevant in chronic health conditions where the patient may have many years of experience of their symptoms and responses to treatments.

2. Co-ordination and integration of care

Research shows that patients highly value coordination of their care, seeing it as an important component of overall quality, especially when they have chronic health problems and complex needs. The reality however, is a patient with a chronic condition often receives care from multiple healthcare providers who may work independently from each other. This fragmented system affects the follow-through and co-ordination of care patients receive.

3. Addressing patients’ information, communication and education needs

Patients differ in their views about how much information they want. In some cases, patients want a lot of information and in other cases patients may delegate decision making entirely to healthcare professionals. The goal of patient-centeredness, according to the IOM report, is to customize information to the specific needs of each individual; that is, to modify the care to respond to the person, not the person to the care. Information needs to be much more easily available and understandable and a concerted effort made to strengthen health literacy for all patients.

4. Physical comfort

Attention to physical comfort implies timely, tailored and expert management of symptoms such as pain or other discomfort. Person-centered pain management takes into account not just the physical aspect of pain, but also the psychological, social, and spiritual aspects of health and disease.

5. Emotional support and alleviation of fear and anxiety

Fear and anxiety associated with illness can be as debilitating as the physical effects. As defined by the Institute of Medicine, patient-centered care attends to the anxiety that accompanies all injury and illness, whether due to uncertainty, fear of pain, disability or disfigurement, loneliness, financial impact, or the effect of illness on one’s family. Chronic illness affects every aspect of our lives and patients face a range of stressors from medical management of our illness, to dealing with changes in family life, work life or student life. The psychological effects of chronic illness can be profound. Individuals with chronic illness are more likely to be depressed, especially those who experience greater levels of pain and disability. In a paper published in the Western Journal of Medicine authors Jane Turner and Brian Kelly examined the emotional dimensions of chronic disease. They concluded that:

  • The emotional dimensions of chronic conditions are often overlooked when medical care is considered
  • Doctors may be well equipped for the biomedical aspects of care but not for the challenges of understanding the psychological, social, and cultural dimensions of illness and health
  • Clinicians can play an important part in helping their patients to maintain healthy coping skills

6. Involvement of family and friends

The sixth dimension of patient-centered care recognises the key role of families and friends in supporting and caring for a chronically ill person. It focuses on accommodating family and friends on whom patients may rely, involving them as appropriate in decision making, supporting them as caregivers, making them welcome and comfortable in the care delivery setting, and recognizing their needs and contributions.

7. Continuity and transition

Every episode of care involves various individuals and oftentimes multiple transfers between different health care settings. Poor communication during transitions leads to increased rates in hospital readmissions, medical errors, and poor health outcomes. Most patients and family caregivers are not encouraged to play an active role when a transition in their care occurs, even though they are often the only constants in the transition.

8. Access to care

Patients need to know they can access care when it is needed. In interviews conducted by Picker, patients indicated the following areas were of importance:

  • Access to the location of hospitals, clinics and physician offices
  • Availability of transportation
  • Ease of scheduling appointments
  • Availability of appointments when needed
  • Accessibility to specialists or specialty services when a referral is made
  • Clear instructions provided on when and how to get referrals.

Ideally patients should have access to the right service at the right place at the right time. This may take place outside the traditional healthcare setting, as Meredith Dezutter, who applies human-centered design to improve the lives of patients, caregivers and providers through her work at Mayo Clinic’s Center for Innovation, points to: “It may mean making medical knowledge more accessible and supporting local care decisions, offering online support or video appointments or even connecting the patient with resources in his or her community.”

For too long, patients have been grouped into a single homogenized category, and treatment approaches to care generalized. This ignores the reality of chronic illness which presents in different ways. Treatment of chronic conditions requires an individualized, multifaceted approach. Care is enhanced when there is sensitivity for the context of the illness experience. Person-centered care is a method of care that treats the patient as a person within the context of their lives, family and community support, mental and emotional state, beliefs and preferences. It is based on good communication and a partnership approach between clinician and patient with the aim of improving patient self-management, care outcomes and satisfaction. PhD student and health researcher, Doro Bechinger-English, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2010, believes that person-centered care facilitates a closer connection between a patient and healthcare provider. “The healthcare professional shows their presence by connecting with me as a patient and a person”, she says. “Person-centered care also means being open to my values, anxieties, concerns and preferences however small or alien they seem to be.”

Redesigning our healthcare systems to adopt a patient-centered perspective is not without its challenges in an acute care system that is primarily reactive, but ultimately doesn’t every patient deserve to be treated in a system in which he or she feels known, respected, involved, engaged, and knowledgeable about their own care?

1 Gerteis M, Edgman-Levitan S, Daley J, Delbanco T. Through the patient’s eyes: understanding and promoting patient-centered care. San Fransisco: Jossey-Bass; 1993

 

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