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Managing chronic conditions

Chronic conditions are often associated with the most unwell members of our population, particularly the elderly. So when we look at the stats and find that 1 in every 2 Australians are living with a chronic condition, it’ is not surprising that it comes as a bit of a shock. It is not all doom and gloom though. We have access to information about how we can prevent ourselves from developing a chronic condition, or how to manage one we already have; and the answer is sitting in our local medical centre.

What is a chronic condition?

The term “chronic conditions” refers to a range of complex health conditions across a broad spectrum of illnesses. Most often a chronic condition has been, or is likely to be, long lasting and has persistent and sometimes detrimental effects. They are most prevalent in older age, however many can occur at any stage in life.

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare defines 8 chronic diseases as being the most prevalent: arthritis, asthma, back pain and problems, cancer, cardiovascular disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), diabetes and mental health conditions. Whilst these conditions are the most common among the general population, there is no finite list of what can be assigned to the label of a “chronic condition”.

What options are available to you if you suffer from a chronic disease?

With the life expectancy of Australians on the rise, we will we see a higher occurrence of wear and tear on the body; factors which may lead to chronic conditions. Prevention and management of chronic diseases is the number one method of tackling the prevalence of chronic conditions in the population, and it starts in the GP’s consultation room. It is here that we find the tools that provide education and planned care to help prevent and tackle the detrimental effects of some of these conditions.

The Chronic Disease Management (CDM) program enables GPs to plan and coordinate your health in association with a chronic medical condition. We have identified the 8 most common conditions in this article, however Medicare recognises that there is no list of eligible conditions. Similarly, someone who has a condition that may be a factor for developing into a chronic condition, may also be eligible for Chronic Disease Management services. For example, Impaired Glucose Tolerance (IGT) is a condition known to be a risk factor for developing Type 2 Diabetes, therefore a person with IGT may be eligible under the CDM program.

These services are designed to assist you in your ongoing care by offering continued access to not only your GP but to a team of multidisciplinary practitioners. Under the CDM program, you are eligible for up to 5 Medicare-rebated sessions with certain allied health services.

What does this mean?

If you have a chronic disease, and have spoken to your GP about it, they may put you on a GP Management Plan and Team Care Arrangement. They may give you a referral to one or more of the following allied health services, depending on your needs and condition:

  • Aboriginal health works and practitioners

  • Audiologists

  • Chiropractors

  • Diabetes Educators

  • Dietitians

  • Exercise Physiologists

  • Mental Health Workers

  • Occupational Therapists

  • Osteopaths

  • Physiotherapists

  • Podiatrists

  • Psychologists

  • Speech pathologists

These speciality services will help you and your GP set and achieve goals to increase your health and wellbeing, and minimise the effects of your chronic condition.

What else can you do to look after your health?

Looking after your health and minimising your chance of developing a chronic condition ultimately comes down to you. There are many resources out there to assist you, and even if you don’t qualify for the Chronic Disease Management services, your GP can still assist you in setting goals and reducing risk factors.

Behavioural risk factors such as tobacco smoking, insufficient physical activity, excessive alcohol consumption and dietary risks have strong evidence of direct associations to chronic diseases. Some of these behavioural risk factors can lead to biomedical factors such as obesity and high blood pressure, which, in turn have strong associations with other chronic diseases (such as depression and chronic kidney disease).

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