Managing a chronic condition with your primary care physician


Every year, thousands of people struggle with managing their chronic condition.

Who is adjusting medications? Who’s tracking those changes? How do you keep tabs on new treatment options?

Having a chronic condition such as diabetes, COPD, congestive heart failure, arthritis or asthma, can be frustrating enough. But when you don’t know who to turn to for help managing your symptoms, everything can become overwhelming.

Working with your primary care provider, whether an internist or family medicine practitioner, can help ease your worries and make navigating health care a bit easier.

Taking responsibility for your health and working closely with your doctor is the best way to look after yourself.

“Depending on the condition, doctors appreciate if patients are tracking their chronic condition in some way - blood pressure, blood sugar, peak flows,” says Michael Barnes, M.D., Beaumont internal medicine. “Those types of measurements can be helpful because it shows that the patient is engaged and it’s a really good way to make adjustments in their medication. It’s important to remember that with chronic disease, we’re managing trends, not single points in time.”

It's important to remember that with chronic disease, we're managing trends, not single points in time.

Dr. Barnes

Additionally, diet and exercise diaries can be helpful, especially if you’re trying to lose weight and you’re just not seeing progress.

Many people are living with multiple chronic diseases, so it’s good to draw clear lines as to which physician is handling what illness. Diseases such as cancer and heart disease are often managed by an oncologist or cardiologist, who then keeps the primary care provider up to date on any changes.

“Getting another medical opinion is totally reasonable, but having two doctors co-manage a condition can be frustrating, especially if they don’t use the same electronic medical record,” explains Dr. Barnes.

Having a chronic condition requires you to digest a lot of information, especially in the beginning. As your physician is explaining things to you, repeat back what he said and don’t be afraid to ask for clarification if you don’t understand something.

Dr. Barnes also recommends having a trusted friend or family member in the room with you, “Having a third party in the room is invaluable. Patients get nervous that the doctor doesn’t want someone back with them, but it’s very helpful,” he says. “It may take a little longer with all the questions, but it significantly cuts down on the follow up, especially if you add in memory loss, age, etc. Often as a patient you are bombarded with facts and advice at a time when you are nervous that you might forget something."

"Having that extra set of ears can really help long-term retention of important information. If my patient wants to call their sister and have them on speaker, I’m fine with that. I find it useful," he adds.

Having a chronic condition means you might have to make a few lifestyle adjustments, but you can manage it. Remember to ask questions until you understand the outcomes and expectations.

Take the front seat in your care. Partnering with your physician is the best way to live your best life.

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