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Caring for the chronically ill patient: How to provide support and dignity?

13 November 2023

Patients with chronic illnesses often need long-term care and medical support. In such cases, it is crucial to ensure not only effective treatment, but also the dignity and quality of life of the patient.

Understanding patient needs

The first step in providing support and dignity to chronically ill patients is to fully understand their needs. Every patient is different, so it is important that medical staff approach each patient individually. It is useful to ask patients what they need, what concerns they have and what goals they would like to achieve in the treatment process.

This empathy and understanding approach is key, as each patient may react differently to illness and treatment. Some need additional emotional support, while others may be more focused on the physical aspects of their condition. Therefore, doctors and medical staff should be ready to tailor care to individual patients' needs.

Understanding patients' needs is also about being able to listen. Patients often have many questions and concerns about their condition. Medical staff should be available to answer these questions and address concerns. Caring and patient listening can significantly improve patients' comfort and increase their trust in medical staff.

Furthermore, understanding patients' needs also means respecting their choices and autonomy. Every patient has the right to decide about their treatment and make decisions according to their own values and preferences. Medical staff should support these choices and help patients to make informed decisions.

It is also worth emphasising that the process of understanding patients' needs does not end at the first visit. Patients may change as their illness progresses, so it is important that medical staff maintain regular contact and monitor patients' needs on an ongoing basis.

Psychological support

Chronic diseases are often associated with high stress and emotional strain. It is therefore important that patients have access to psychological support. Psychotherapists and counsellors can help patients manage their emotions, cope with stress and depression and improve their quality of life.

Understanding and controlling one's own emotions is the key to successful disease management. Psychotherapists help patients identify and express their feelings so they can better manage negative emotions such as anxiety or anger. Talking to a psychotherapist also allows patients to understand the impact of the illness on their lives and helps them adapt to their new reality.

Psychological support is particularly important for chronic diseases that can lead to depression. Depression is a common companion to many chronic diseases and can significantly impair a patient's quality of life. Psychotherapists and counsellors help to manage depression by teaching patients effective strategies to cope with low mood and apathy.

Psychological support is also support for the patient's family. Chronic illnesses not only affect the patient themselves, but also their loved ones. Psychotherapists can help families understand and cope with the emotions associated with their loved one's illness.

Ensuring access to appropriate care

Access to appropriate medical care is a key element in providing support to chronically ill patients. The healthcare system should be accessible and efficient so that patients can receive the care they need in a timely manner. Long waiting times for an appointment or treatment can negatively affect a patient's health.

Lack of access to appropriate medical care can lead to serious consequences. Patients may not receive necessary diagnostic tests, which can delay diagnosis and treatment. Long waits to see a specialist can lead to worsening health conditions and more pain and suffering.

Inequalities in access to medical care can also affect patients' quality of life. People living in smaller towns or rural areas may find it difficult to access specialists and modern medical procedures. This makes ensuring equal access to healthcare an important challenge for healthcare systems around the world.

Economic factors can also affect access to medical care. People on lower incomes may have limited access to treatment because they cannot afford private health insurance or treatment from specialists. In such cases, public health systems play a key role in providing access to medical care.

Dignity of the Patient

An extremely important aspect of caring for a chronically ill patient is ensuring dignity. Patients need to be respected, involved and supported to remain as independent as possible in their daily lives. It is also worth taking their preferences and wishes into account when making decisions about their medical care.

Ensuring patient dignity is not only a question of medical staff maintaining professionalism, but also of creating an atmosphere of understanding and acceptance. For many chronically ill patients, maintaining their sense of dignity is a key element of treatment.

Dignity for the patient also means taking into account their individual needs and limitations. It is an acceptance of the facts that each patient has his or her own pace of recovery, his or her own aspirations and life goals, regardless of the illness that has affected him or her.

It is worth emphasising that chronically ill patients often experience difficult emotions such as shame, anger or frustration. Medical staff should be sensitive to these emotions and offer psychological support to help patients cope.

Maintaining patient dignity also means respecting their privacy. Chronically ill patients often have to undergo various examinations and procedures, which can be very embarrassing for them. Medical staff should ensure that patients feel comfortable and protected from unnecessary surveillance.