Patient Education, Disease Prevention Is Everyone’s Job


While it is easy to say, “this is not my problem,” the truth of the matter is that chronic disease prevention and education is the problem of all medical providers.

I work in surgery, in a small burn unit, and much of the time, I am confronted with managing burn injuries in patients with significant pre-existing health problems that complicate their care. I am not alone. It’s safe to say that all providers, regardless of specialty, are confronted daily with patients suffering comorbiditiies outside for the reason(s) they present to our practices for care.

Diabetes is a prime example of a disease that makes burn care very difficult. The Centers for Disease Control reports that 11 percent of the U.S. population suffers from diabetes, both diagnosed and undiagnosed. Currently 10 percent of all healthcare dollars are spent treating diabetes.

It never ceases to surprise me that our burn unit is the first diagnosis point for many diseases such as hypertension, diabetes, and lung disease. Our team cringes when confronted by a new admission with lower extremity burns and a history of diabetes or peripheral vascular disease. We know all too well the wound healing challenges in these patients.

While it is easy to say, “this is not my problem,” the truth of the matter is that chronic disease prevention and education is the problem of all medical providers, regardless of our primary specialties.

Throughout our careers, we all have had at least some exposure to patient education and public health. PAs are particularly well-suited to bring a preventive eye to their patients because of their generalist education, regardless of specialty. My own education mirrors the strong focus that PA programs and students still put on the issue of patient education and disease prevention and education.

As an example of the prevention focus of PA education, take the Wayne State University H.E.L.P. Clinic - a collaborative effort of the Wayne State University Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and the Physician Assistant Studies (PAS) Program.

There, targeted educational monthly programs are provided by PA students and others focusing on a variety of topics including hypertension, diabetes, weight-related health risks, cancer (particularly breast cancer awareness and prevention), and respiratory disease. These students get practical experience and direct exposure to the challenges of patient education and disease prevention in a medically under-served population.

There are numerous examples of this type of awareness-building activity in medical schools across the nation, and it is of the utmost importantance as prevention of chronic disease, and early diagnosis and effective treatment of the same, is critical to reducing health care costs in the U.S.

The prevention message doesn’t just apply to chronic illness, however. Consider oral health, immunizations, and child safety. For instance, 40 percent of the admissions to our burn units are pediatric patients, and virtually 100 percent of these injuries to children are preventable. I never miss an opportunity, whether in the clinic, on the unit, or in the emergency department, to educate parents about burn prevention. Simple things such as kitchen safety, hot water heater temperatures, fire safety, etc., can go a long way towards preventing a very expensive admission to a burn unit. I feel like a broken record some times, but it only takes one serious burn in a toddler to make you a believer in education and prevention.

I feel we all need to take a similar attitude towards our patients with diabetes, smoking, weight, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, etc. As healthcare providers, why shouldn’t we all work to reduce morbidity from preventable diseases through patient education, early recognition, and effective treatment? I can’t think of a single reason.

I want to talk about team medicine in more detail at another time, but a watchful eye for chronic illness is a prime example of the way in which PAs are committed to patient education and chronic disease prevention across all settings and specialities. We’re educated to think this way, and we’re proud to bring it this philosophy into practice.

Effective patient education, disease prevention, and treatment programs won’t have a payoff for years and decades, but it is in all our best interests to include these vital activities in every discussion about healthcare reform. Our daily actions can help to bridge the disconnect between the expenditures on chronic illness and the cost-savings preventive health can promote.

We are far removed from the days when one provider can “do it all” in medicine. In the future, together, we can make an incredible difference in our patient’s lives by taking the time and making available education and information to make our patients’ lives better and healthier.

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