Listening the key to managing chronic illness

Encouraging health care workers to take the simple step of listening more to the needs and coping capacities of chronically ill patients would help reduce unnecessary hospital admissions, improve working relationships between health workers and patients and ultimately deliver health outcomes for patients, according to a Flinders University academic.

Dr Sharon Lawn, the Course Coordinator of Postgraduate Programs in Chronic Condition Management and Self-Management for the University’s Human Behaviour and Health Research Unit, told Flinders Journal that health professionals often operate within the boundaries of a ”reactive” system, which relies on a variety of structured support services to assist patients with chronic conditions rather than supplementing their self management skills.

“It is easy for us as health professionals to be one step removed from our patients,” Dr Lawn said.
“In doing so, we miss important information about their needs and coping capacities. As a result, we are in danger of overlooking the very things that are often the most important barriers and enablers to them living to their maximum potential despite the presence of chronic illness.”

“Consequently, many patients often struggle to problem-solve and negotiate the health system in spite of good self management skills, with some even opting to act passively as recipients of expert advice and intervention, asking few questions.”

“The result of this is that they can receive little service other than ad hoc responses to issues as they arise which can sometimes be too late, resulting in an admission to hospital that may well have been avoided or delayed at the early intervention or prevention end, where real benefits could have been made.”

To address this, a team of health professionals studying at Flinders University, led by Dr Lawn, has compiled a collection of case studies from people suffering from chronic illness and produced a booklet entitled The Person’s Experience of Chronic Condition Self-Management.

Dr Lawn said the publication is aimed at providing a deeper understanding of the heavy burdens people with chronic conditions face, particularly in relation to beneficial and harmful aspects of liaising with health professionals, and how the system can work for or against the person.

“People are more than a string of symptoms to be managed with medications and behavioural adjustments; they have complex life histories that impact on their health behaviours in spite of knowing what is ‘good for them’,” she said.

“This book has provided patients with a voice and offered a greater understanding of how a person living with a chronic condition responds to illness management and to health system support.”

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