Therapeutic Patient Education and Chronic Diseases
The World Health Organization defines therapeutic education as, “…helping patients and their families understand the disease and the treatment, cooperate with health care providers, live healthily, and maintain or improve their quality of life”.
This approach is undoubtedly functional, but requires various features in order to obtain pre-established results. In this process, the care provider must possess special educational skills acquired through specific inter-disciplinary training without forgetting the role of the caregiver.
An effective strategy for chronic diseases
The majority of diseases that affect the Western populations today are often medically treatable, yet not curable, and are chronic. Chronic diseases, in fact, represent a crisis situation in the third millennium. Not only do these pathologies absorb more than 70% of direct health costs, but generate just as many indirect costs. These expenses are expected to rise due to population ageing.
The therapeutic education of a patient affected by a chronic disease is becoming fundamental to making a patient an active and aware protagonist in the therapeutic plan and motivated to keep the healthiest life style possible throughout every phase of the disease.
In the 1970s, a young Swiss endocrinologist, Jean-Philippe Assal, realized that more than 50% of patients affected by chronic diseases did not put into practice the therapeutic plan prescribed by the doctor. He understood that dealing with these pathologies as if they were acute illnesses was a failed strategy and began to seek a way to resolve this problem. Assal understood that these pathologies possessed peculiar characteristics that must always be considered in order for therapy to be successful. The diagnosis of a chronic disease, in fact, not only provokes a temporary disruption in the life of the patient, but brings about an emotional shock linked to having to live the rest of their life with the disease. Unlike someone affected by an acute illness, a patient with a chronic disease feels a sense of finality and must accept that he or she will have to be treated for the rest of their life. These changes not only affect the patient, but also the people around him, like caregivers or family members. For this reason, therapeutic patient education measures are flexible and can be carried out through different methods and different approaches.
The role of the caregiver
Precisely because patient therapeutic education is flexible, it is impossible to provide an unambiguous definition of its effectiveness on the patient, but the role of the caregiver is one of the few points that always remains the same. Quite often the role of the caregiver is performed by a family member and, in more serious situations, the care given is equivalent to a day’s worth of work, making it almost impossible for a caregiver to carry out a job. It is, thus, fundamental that caregivers carry out their role in the most effective way possible and therapeutic education is advantageous towards this goal by:
allowing for active participation in the care process of the family member
allowing for a more harmonious relationship with care providers
helping to better recognize the needs of the patient.
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