Features December 2016 Issue

Coordinated Care Vital For Heart Patients With Other Health Conditions

Dealing with other medical challenges can complicate heart disease treatment, but good communication with all your physicians can make a positive difference.

It’s no secret that your risk of heart disease climbs as you age. Unfortunately, the same is true for other health conditions, such as arthritis, respiratory problems, cognitive decline, and many types of cancer. These and other medical issues, including non-cardiac surgery, can have a considerable impact on your heart health.

This is why it’s critical that you keep your cardiologist and all your specialists informed of all your health issues. Coordination between all of your healthcare providers gives you a better chance of achieving better health and reducing complications, says Patrick Collier, MD, co-director of the Cardio-Oncology Center at Cleveland Clinic.

He notes that cancer treatment, for example, can pose some serious risks to heart patients. But those risks can be better controlled when a patient’s providers work as a team.

“When multiple specialists (oncologists, cardiologists, surgeons and primary care physicians, etc.) work together in tandem, increasingly more effective cancer treatments in terms of better patient survival can be administered,” he says. “It also ensures that cardiovascular disease, the major cause of mortality in cancer patients and survivors, is prevented, recognized and, at the very least, well-managed. Such multi-disciplinary care has proven to be an effective model of care for many diseases and underlies the rationale for the creation of the new sub-specialty of cardio-oncology.”

Sharing Information

doctor consultation

If you have heart disease and other health conditions, itís important for your doctors to confer and share information.

The importance of multiple specialists working together isn’t unique to cancer. No matter what your health profile is, it’s essential that all your providers have a complete picture of your health and medical needs. And because you may see specialists in several different practices or in more than one hospital or medical center, the key to all this physician coordination is you.

A few things to make sure your doctors know include:

- All medications and supplements you take;

- All X-rays and other screening tests you’ve undergone in the past few years;

- All surgeries or other procedures you have had and are planning to have;

- Your complete medical history and family medical history;

- Allergies or side effects you may have experienced relating to medications, anesthesia or treatments.

All of your doctors also should know about any changes in your medications or your symptoms, even if the symptoms don’t seem related to the purpose of a particular doctor’s appointment. If, for example, worsening knee arthritis is limiting your ability to exercise, your cardiologist should know. Perhaps alternative forms of exercise may be possible to allow you to keep your heart pumping during physical activity.

Coordinating Care

The other key person in this coordination-of-care effort is your primary care physician. This doctor can act as a resource for your other specialists, providing them the latest information from your blood work or annual physical, advising them about specific health concerns, and just generally keeping your healthcare providers up to date on all your ongoing medical concerns.

This role is so important, in fact, that last year, Medicare started a new program, in which primary care physicians are eligible for a monthly fee if they help coordinate care for patients with multiple chronic health conditions. Medicare’s goal is to help patients stay healthier in between appointments and prevent problems that could lead to expensive hospital stays or worse.

“We all need care coordination. Medicare patients need it more than ever,” says Sean Cavanaugh, deputy administrator at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. The majority of Medicare beneficiaries have at least two chronic conditions, such as heart disease, diabetes, kidney disease or cancer.

Ask Questions

While your doctors may or may not keep each other updated about your healthcare, it’s ultimately up to you to become educated about your health. Never hesitate to ask questions. If you’re going in for knee surgery, for example, make sure you find out if or when you should stop your medications prior to the operation.

Often your healthcare providers will keep you informed of important instructions. But just to make sure, get the answers you need. And if you’re not sure what to ask, inquire of your doctors, “Is there anything else I should know?”

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