People struggling with a chronic illness know the toll it can take. These illnesses affect the majority of adults in the U.S.: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that 60% of adults have a chronic disease, and 40% have two or more. Illnesses such as heart disease and diabetes can reduce life expectancy and be costly — even more so if patients struggle to afford quality health care.
Given the prevalence and impact of these conditions, the work of nurse practitioners in helping to prevent and manage chronic illnesses is crucial. Nurse practitioners are advanced practice registered nurses with specialized training in diagnosing and managing chronic illness. They are essential health care team members, improving access to treatment and delivering high-quality, cost-effective care to patients. Those looking to help patients with chronic illnesses experience a better quality of life should consider the benefits of an advanced education in nursing.
What Is a Chronic Illness?
A chronic illness is a health condition that lasts for an extended period, typically longer than three months, and for which there is no known cure. Its duration, rather than its specific symptoms, is central to the definition of what a chronic illness is. Compared to acute diseases, which have a rapid onset and last a relatively short time, chronic illnesses are persistent, with a wide range of effects on an individual’s quality of life. Heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and arthritis are some of the more common chronic illnesses.
- Heart disease affects the cardiovascular system. It is caused by a buildup of plaque in the arteries, which decreases blood flow and can increase the risk of heart attack or stroke. Chest pain, shortness of breath, and fatigue are all symptoms of heart disease.
- Cancer is the abnormal and uncontrolled growth of cells somewhere in the body, with the type of cancer being determined by where the growth appears. Cancer symptoms vary depending on the type and can include weight loss, chronic pain, and fatigue.
- Diabetes is a disease that renders the body unable to produce or properly use insulin, resulting in high blood sugar levels. Diabetes symptoms include increased thirst, frequent urination, and blurred vision.
- Arthritis causes the cartilage in the joints to break down. Arthritis symptoms include joint pain, swelling, and decreased mobility.
Chronic illnesses can have a significant impact on patients’ quality of life, both physically and emotionally. They can make it difficult for people to participate in daily activities, leading to feelings of isolation and depression. Furthermore, chronic illnesses often necessitate ongoing medical treatment that can be time-consuming and costly, which can result in financial strain and increased stress.
According to the CDC, the cost of treating chronic illnesses makes up a large share of the $4.1 trillion the U.S. spends on health care each year. The financial impact of chronic illnesses extends beyond individual patients and affects society as a whole; for example, the burden of living with chronic illness leads many people to leave the workforce.
The human and financial costs of treating chronic illnesses are high, and many individuals with chronic illnesses can’t afford the care they need, leading to continued poor health outcomes and increased health care costs.
The Role of Nurse Practitioners in Chronic Illness Care
Nurse practitioners can help patients prevent and manage chronic illnesses by providing them with a more comprehensive understanding of their conditions and the tools they can employ to take control of their own health. This can take the form of information on healthy lifestyle choices like nutrition and exercise or advice on managing prescription regimens and monitoring symptoms.
In addition to patient education, nurse practitioners can assist patients with integrating chronic illness management into their daily lives. This assistance may entail coordinating care among health care providers, ensuring that patients receive necessary medical treatments and follow-up care, and aiding them in navigating the health care system by making appointments, ordering tests, and filling prescriptions.
Nurse practitioners can also support patients in dealing with the emotional and psychological impacts of their chronic illnesses. They can offer their patients assistance and counseling to help them cope with the physical restrictions and mental health issues that often accompany chronic illnesses, connect them with support groups, and refer them to mental health experts.
Improving Chronic Illness Care
With more nurse practitioners providing primary care to patients, more patients can gain access to care. Primary care providers help patients prevent or manage chronic illnesses. They can help their patients avoid chronic diseases by detecting and controlling risk factors such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and obesity. They can also ensure their patients receive routine health screenings like mammograms and colonoscopies to discover chronic illnesses early on, when they are more treatable.
As leaders, nurse practitioners can act as advocates for better methods of educating and providing care to patients with chronic illnesses. They can also support patients by collaborating with other health care professionals to ensure care is integrated and holistic.
Telehealth is another way to improve chronic illness care. Telehealth enables providers to interact remotely with patients, performing regular checkups and monitoring their conditions. This is especially useful for people with limited health care access and those who have trouble traveling to appointments. It also provides patients with educational information and self-management tools to help them enhance their quality of life.
Improve Lives with a Career in Nursing
Nurse practitioners’ advanced education and training empower them to provide patients with the necessary care and guidance to manage chronic illnesses effectively. Nurses looking to take the next step in their career, tackle leadership roles, and have greater autonomy in patient care should consider the educational advantages of Regis College’s online Post-Master’s Certificate in Nursing program.
With a focus on a holistic approach to health care, the program prepares nurses to provide high-quality care and take on leadership roles. As a 100% online program, it allows you to advance your education and career without disrupting your life. Discover how you can support patients’ well-being and help them live healthier lives with Regis College.
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BMC Primary Care, “How Do Nurses Support Chronically Ill Clients’ Participation and Self-Management in Primary Care? A Cross-Country Qualitative Study”
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, About Chronic Diseases
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Health and Economic Costs of Chronic Diseases
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Telehealth Interventions to Improve Chronic Disease
ChartSpan, “The Chronic Care Model”
Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes, “Urban Spatial Accessibility of Primary Care and
Hypertension Control and Awareness on Chicago’s South Side: A Study from the COMPASS Cohort”
HealthCareExecIntelligence, “Value-Based Care Is Improving Chronic Disease Management”
PatientEngagementHIT, “Easier Primary Care Access Improved Chronic Disease Management”
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Nurse Anesthetists, Nurse Midwives, and Nurse Practitioners