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How nurses can help patients with chronic illnesses

Coping with chronic illnesses can be very difficult. While acute diseases may be curable, chronic conditions may never go away. The permanent nature of chronic illnesses means that they can be disruptive to a patient in many ways. On top of disease-specific symptoms, those suffering from chronic illnesses might also have invisible symptoms such as frequent pain and fatigue. Treatment of chronic illness is often provided by nurses; these are some of the ways that nurses might provide care.

Providing patient education

Despite its importance in ensuring the well-being of patients, healthcare provision outside of hospitals is limited. How can patient care be provided outside of healthcare facilities? The answer is patient education. Nurses can provide education, using plain language, to make it easy for patients to manage their conditions. Nurses can also teach patients about the signs and symptoms of their illnesses that might require immediate medical attention, reducing unnecessary readmissions. This saves time for patients and staff while saving costs for the government.

When educating patients, nurses have to be aware of the fact that patients have varying learning capabilities. Others might have literacy and cultural barriers. You can learn all about patient education and more in an online nursing program like the hybrid ABSN course at Saint Joseph’s College of Maine. This flexible course provides a 100% online, coursework-based fast-track option for trainee nurses.

Developing care plans

A patient with a chronic illness requires a personalized care plan. The care plan contains the patient’s condition, diagnosis, and healthcare team’s goals. A care plan streamlines communication in the healthcare team and allows them to organize a patient’s care and support their needs. For example, if the patient requires a nurse with specific skills and experience, a comprehensive plan makes assigning that nurse possible. A well-written plan can also act as a frame of reference against which care providers can measure the effectiveness of different interventions.

When developing a care plan for patients with chronic illness, a nurse should answer three important questions: what, why, and how. What does the patient suffer from, why do they have that condition, and how can it get better?

Nurses need to uphold effective communication when developing care plans. Otherwise, the document will not provide the patient and the care team with the necessary information. Some best practices for creating a care plan for chronically ill patients include writing down dates and times and using terms the rest of the team can understand.

Chronic disease monitoring

Patients with chronic illnesses also require regular monitoring, to enable healthcare providers to spot any changes in the condition. Disease monitoring is also an excellent way to check how the patient responds to various medications.

Nurses must use standardized assessment tools to monitor chronic diseases to ensure consistency and accuracy. Nurses should establish a monitoring schedule based on each patient’s unique needs and disease progression. During this monitoring procedure, a nurse should document everything, including patient responses. These observations can be used when adjusting the care plan.

This monitoring procedure is a perfect time for nurses to educate patients. Nurses can teach patients how to self-report changes in symptoms, allowing the patient to play an active role in their healthcare journey.

It is worth noting that the nurse doesn’t necessarily have to see the patient face-to-face. Technology has made it possible for nurses to monitor patients remotely.

Patient Advocacy

Patient advocacy is one of a nurse’s primary responsibilities–especially for patients with chronic illnesses. Patients may lack the expertise to navigate the healthcare system, thus relying on the nurse for support. Nurses get to see patients holistically, not just as another case of chronic illness. Therefore, they can take steps to ensure the patient’s safety, such as asking for clarification when the doctor is vague. A nurse can also help patients express their concerns, thus promoting their autonomy. Sometimes, that might be hard to do, especially when the nurse feels like the patient is not making the right decision. However, the patient is entitled to their opinion, and the nurse must always act ethically.

Providing emotional support

Besides affecting the physical body, chronic illnesses also affect patients psychologically. Worries about the disease’s long-term effects are common and a patient might even have to grapple with the fear of dying. Furthermore, numerous hospital visits and procedures are not pleasant. As a result, patients with chronic illnesses might experience problems such as changes in self-esteem and volatile mood.  

Besides providing medical care, nurses also emotionally support patients with chronic illnesses. Emotional support includes showing compassion for a patient’s situation and easing any anxieties they might have. They also simply provide patients with company and socialization that can distract patients and improve their mood.

Promoting self-care

As you’ve read, chronic health conditions can be a significant source of stress. That’s why patients need to adopt self-care techniques. When most people hear self-care, their minds quickly go to a spa date. However, for patients with chronic health conditions, self-care goes beyond doing something nice occasionally.

Being at the forefront of healthcare delivery, nurses can remind patients of the importance of practicing self-care. These include a balanced diet, physical activity, sleep improvement, and breathing exercises.

Coordinating care for patients

In most cases, patients with chronic illnesses have complex needs requiring several members of a  healthcare team. Care coordination comes into play to ensure that every team member is working towards a common goal. The nurse ensures that all the team members have the knowledge they need to do their job. They also collaborate with various people to develop proactive care plans. Additionally, nurses can help patients manage their healthcare goals by connecting them with community resources. By coordinating care, nurses improve patient satisfaction while reducing per capita costs.

Nursing is the gift that keeps on giving

Ultimately, nurses play a crucial role in caring for patients with chronic illnesses. They not only take care of their medical needs but their emotional needs as well. As you plan to venture into a career in nursing, be ready for the rewarding experience of making a difference in people’s lives.

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