The number of individuals with chronic health conditions who will need long-term care is expected to increase. Due to an anticipated shortage of healthcare professionals, other options for able-bodied patients must be explored. Self-care is a viable solution that is not only comparatively cost effective, but also allows patients to retain their independence thanks to advances in telecommunications.
Long Term Healthcare through Self Care
What Is Self Care?
Self care is comprised of voluntary activities that assist people in maintaining a healthy lifestyle and general well-being. On the primary level, there is non-skilled self-care, which implies that individuals are responsible for overseeing their own:
- Healthy diet
- Regular fitness regimen
- Substantial amounts of sleep
- Good hygiene maintenance
- Avoidance of high-risk activities like smoking or excessive drinking
Managing Chronic Health Issues
On the secondary level, extended care is needed for patients with chronic health problems. Patients with chronic or long-term health conditions need the guidance and oversight of skilled professionals. Studies show that more than 25% of Americans suffer from at least two chronic health issues. Some of the more commonly known chronic health issues are heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, arthritis, asthma, osteoporosis, and kidney disease. Patients with higher-risk problems must be open, willing, and motivated to changing lifestyle habits. A patient’s ability to manage emotional issues in addition to those relative to daily functioning is essential for a successful long-term self-care program. Management of chronic health problems may include:
- Taking medication for a prolonged period of time
- Testing one’s own blood or urinary values
- Changing surgical dressings
- Monitoring and/or adjusting diet or fluid intake
Also factored into patient self-care are basic factors such as the patient’s age, gender, mental condition, living habits, and accessibility or quality of resources.
Financing Long-Term Self Care
Finding affordable healthcare is another challenge facing long-term care (LTC) patients. Informative media is saturated with insurance information or financial planning programs targeted toward patients preparing for retirement.
Given that nearly 70% of people over the age of 65 will need LTC, coming up with a financial strategy is of the utmost importance. For example:
- Medicaid is a government program that will cover some health services and long-term self-care options.
- Individual, self-employed, or cash-value life insurance options have tax-deductible benefits associated with them for patients of self care.
Among the care options available to LTC patients (such as a nursing home or retirement community), self-care is one of the most economical. Further, it allows patients to retain greater independence.
Addressing the Long-Term Patient Boom
The Patient/Practitioner Discrepancy
The country is facing a severe deficit of healthcare professionals compared to the ratio of anticipated patient-need. The Baby Boom Generation is entering their 60s and 70s. It is estimated that there will be 81 million people suffering from chronic conditions by 2020.
Caring for Long-Term Self Care Patients
Given that there are not nor will there ever be enough physicians available to provide care for this growing population, additional qualified healthcare professionals will be required to fill the void. Registered nurses who get their Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degrees will be prepared for a variety of educational roles in both clinical and academic settings, whether you are preparing other nurses to thrive in their profession or are teaching patients how to care for themselves and prevent disease.
Educating and Preparing Patients
Specialists work with long-term patients to mitigate issues that can impede a healthcare program’s success. Educating patients is a critical aspect in self care because uneducated patients may:
- Have a diminished self-care motivation,
- Be unable to identify the need for particular activities and the consequences that may stem from not completing necessary tasks,
- Not be able to recognize clusters of symptoms pertinent to their conditions, or
- Misdiagnose symptoms.
Education is also important because patients are advised on:
- Diet and exercise programs.
- How to assess their health relative to their condition.
- Administering self-tests and medication.
- Using technology to communicate with healthcare professionals and to monitor health.
The Future of Long Term Self Care
Technological Advances in Healthcare
Even though patients in self-care programs are not regularly seen by their physicians, they need to have access to their providers because the ability to effectively communicate is integral to a successful self-care regimen. The Internet plays a major role in fulfilling this need.
Telemedicine, for example, enables physicians to communicate diagnostic recommendations and treatment methods to patients using telecommunication technology. In addition to improving remote access to patients, some of the advantages of telemedicine include:
- Relinquishing of resources—Telemedicine is less costly for hospitals, patients, and insurance companies without compromising the quality of care.
- Better use of staff time—Telemedicine frees nurses’ time for tackling other responsibilities.
- Increased communication—Telemedicine makes medical records access, caregiver guidance, e-learning materials, feedback, and self-assessment tools available for both patients and physicians.
Similar yet distinct from telemedicine are telehealth and telecare, which remotely monitor patients.
- Telehealth devices monitor patient’s vital signs. This specialized equipment allows patients to monitor blood pressure and blood glucose levels. The patient’s ability to responsibly monitor their health can help reduce costly trips to the hospital.
- Telecare devices are similar to alarm systems that are worn by the patient and can be activated to alert the authorities when there is an emergency, such as a fall, that might prevent the patient from reaching help.
While there are legal and confidential technicalities associated with healthcare telecommunication, options are being explored to not only reduce costs, but also allow patients to retain their independence and monitor long-term health issues. While telemedicine will help seal the gap between the increasing patient population and decreasing healthcare professional population, there is still a need for healthcare professionals with advanced training to be able to provide quality care, education, and support to patients enrolled in long-term self-care programs.