According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW), almost half of Australians (47%, or more than 11 million people) were estimated to have at least one of the ten most common chronic diseases in 2022.
Chronic conditions such as asthma, cancer, cardiovascular disease, or diabetes are an everyday part of the lives of these Australians and their loved ones. As they require long-term management but are not always an emergency, community and primary care practitioners step in to educate, manage and treat these conditions.
An effective primary and community care team means that for these Australians living with chronic conditions, they can keep up their quality of life for much longer and have less reliance on hospitals. Nurses are critical to the effective management of chronic disease and need to be well-versed in a series of common and uncommon conditions to manage education, expectations, and the overall health of their consumers.
At the Australian College of Nursing (ACN), nurses are given the opportunity to develop the skills and training to best serve their consumers in primary care through the Graduate Certificate in Community and Primary Health Care Nursing. Led by ACN Nurse Educator Linlin Ho MACN, the graduate certificate provides specific units for those looking to specialise in chronic disease management and support.
We sat down with Linlin and asked her all about why nurses need to know about chronic disease management.
Many members of the wider community typically do not think of nurses as working in primary and community care. How do nurses interact with community and primary health?
Nurses in community and primary healthcare play an essential role in providing healthcare services to individuals with ongoing healthcare needs. For people managing one or more chronic diseases, nurses work closely with multidisciplinary teams to support their long-term health.
The nurses’ role in these teams is to provide support and education for people with chronic disease, so they can provide better self-management and support systems for their health.
Why is knowing how to manage chronic conditions – and complex conditions – so important for nurses?
Nurses are often the first point of contact for individuals with complex healthcare needs. We interact with the community through various channels, such as health promotion, disease prevention, education, and outreach programs. Nurses also collaborate with other healthcare professionals, including:
- general practitioners,
- allied health professionals,
- pharmacists, and,
- other health educators.
These collaborative efforts provide comprehensive care for people with chronic conditions.
Nurses’ contributions to the primary and community care settings are crucial in reducing the burden on hospital care. Chronic diseases such as diabetes, cancer, cardiovascular conditions, and respiratory disorders require ongoing management, which includes monitoring individuals’ health status, providing education on lifestyle modifications, and administering medications. Effective management of chronic conditions can prevent disease complications and improve individuals’ quality of life.
We are seeing an uptick in chronic conditions in Australians – is it only certain types and what type of conditions are we seeing more of?
One in five Australians (4.9 million people) were estimated to have two or more of the most common chronic health conditions in 2017–18. As mentioned before, these conditions include asthma, cancer, heart disease and diabetes, among others.
Other conditions with high rates of prevalence in the community include musculoskeletal conditions (29%), chronic respiratory conditions (31%), and mental ill-health (20%) across all age ranges (AIHW, 2022).
Australia is experiencing an increase in chronic diseases that are often associated with ageing and lifestyle factors such as obesity, physical inactivity, and an unbalanced diet intake. Nurses in primary and community care play a key role in addressing these conditions by providing education, prevention, and management strategies to individuals and their families.
How does the Graduate Certificate in Community and Primary Health Care Nursing prepare nurses for managing chronic health conditions?
In the community, nurses meet people with chronic diseases multiple times during the management of their condition and can become empathetic and connected to their welfare. By understanding epidemiology, health assessment skills, and collaborative case management, you can set yourself up to provide the highest-quality care for everyone who comes into your care.
One of the program’s main focuses is to develop nurses’ knowledge and skills in managing people with chronic and complex health issues. Throughout their study, I aim to provide students the opportunity to gain a great understanding of the epidemiology of chronic diseases, health assessment, and collaborative case management.
The Graduate Certificate in Community and Primary Health Care Nursing is a comprehensive program that addresses the changing landscape of healthcare delivery and the increasing demand for managing chronic diseases. After starting the course, nurses will gain a deep understanding of the issues related to providing health services to people with chronic disease.
What is something you want all nurses working in this space to know?
Nurses made a significant contribution to the community throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. We need to be aware of the challenges associated with managing chronic diseases in the 21st century, because of the pandemic.
The challenges include the need for ongoing support, the need to address social determinants of health, and the importance of person-centred care. Nurses should also be aware of the importance of cultural competence, effective communication, and collaboration with other healthcare professionals in delivering high-quality care to people with chronic conditions.
Linlin Ho MACN
Linlin is a Nurse Educator from the Australian College of Nursing (ACN) and the Course Coordinator for the Graduate Certificate in Community and Primary Health Care Nursing. She has been working in the primary healthcare setting since the beginning of her career and recently completed a Master of Nursing with a major in Education from James Cook University.
In addition to formal education, Linlin has also completed multiple certificates, including the Immunisation Certificate, which makes her an authorised nurse immuniser. She has also completed certificates in Well Women’s Screening, Cannulation for Nurses, and Wound Closure and Suturing.
She has experience in chronic disease management and care planning in general practice, and has also established an iron infusion clinic, flu clinic and a COVID-19 vaccination clinic. She is also Deputy Chair of the ACN Chronic Disease Faculty. She is passionate about providing patients with quality care and helping educate and upskill other healthcare professionals.
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW). (2022). Chronic conditions and multimorbidity. https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/australias-health/chronic-conditions-and-multimorbidity.