It happens all too often. A patient visits his or her primary care physician hoping to find a treatment plan for an illness and leaves the office with a prescription to visit three different specialists who will treat the various ailments. While each specialist may diagnose and treat the patient in the manner they find to be most beneficial, often times the treatments, when combined with others, do not align.

Today, nearly half of all Americans suffer from a chronic condition. One in four of Americans suffer from at least two. These conditions are rarely singular and often produce a domino effect in an individual. For example, a patient suffering from obesity may need to utilize gastric bypass surgery. In addition, the patient may suffer from high blood pressure, hypertension, depression. These conditions all stem from the his initial disorder.  

Top 7 Chronic Conditions Chart

As these conditions collide, a process known as comorbidity, the patient is forced to seek out additional treatment, often from separate specialists. Not only is this process financially prohibitive, it’s also time intensive and confusing. And with thousands of Americans turning 65 each day, the logistics of traveling to care centers become an additional source of concern.

What can be done to counteract this challenge? To start, primary care treatment needs to emphasize and implement a more educational role. Diagnosing and providing a short term solution for a patient is no longer enough. Preventative care has proven to be one of the most effective ways to manage health. But how do we teach preventative health strategies to the population at large?

To begin, we must first target current patients. Let’s provide prescriptions for sustained healthy living. Doctors must find ways to engage with patients; to provide tips and guidance on how to embark on a daily exercise regiment or how to eat a healthy diet. In some care centers, kitchens are installed and doctors work with patients, teaching them how to cook basic and healthy recipes. ‘

In addition to educating our clients on preventative care, we must also look towards patient advocacy. A patient must be aware of his or her illness and treatment plans and feel comfortable discussing questions with the medical facilitator. If the patient is incapable of advocacy, it’s important that a family member or close friend accompany the patient to each visit. When diagnosed with multiple illnesses, a patient must be responsible for managing the realm of their treatment: from visit, to treatment, to asking follow-up questions.

Another consideration when addressing the concerns of patient comorbidity is to assemble a multidisciplinary care team. Composed of specialists, the team of this kind works together to consult and advise on a person’s care. Today, there is a large movement to increase the collaboration of care to address illnesses that span the spectrum of psychosocial to physical disorders. For example, patients diagnosed with diabetes are also likely to be suffering from undiagnosed depression. In this case, a team of specialists would be better suited to diagnose, treat, and monitor the patient’s care. Research continues to bring new correlations to light. In time, we can hope that collaborative teams will replace the current siloed medical communities.

Family black and white photograph

Finally, new technology emerges everyday, offering patients easier and more efficient ways to manage their conditions and treat multiple diseases. The market for wearable tech has increased dramatically over the last few years and continues to improve the way patients and doctors communicate. Today, there are devices that monitor heart rate, insulin levels, and cardiac events. Wearable tech is a fantastic option to not only ease the burden of combined chronic illnesses but to keep patients on track to preventatively manage their symptoms.

With any new idea when addressing options for managing patient comorbidity, balance should remain a top priority. In today’s age, the shift to a more collaborative system that relies on social capital is inevitable and extremely possible. It’s time to begin finding comprehensive approaches for our patients, to seek balance when diagnosing, and to strive to educate preventative strategies to keep the population healthier and happier.

Blue Bushes