Category Archives: Chronic illness

Aug 29 2014

Pediatricians Need to Take Community-Based Approach to Addressing Chronic Conditions in Children

James Perrin, MD, FAAP, began a one-year term as president of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) in January. A professor in the department of pediatrics at MassGeneral Hospital for Children and Harvard Medical School, Perrin received a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Investigator Award in Health Policy Research in 1997.

James Perrin

Human Capital Blog: Congratulations on your new role as president of the American Academy of Pediatrics! What is your vision for the organization?

James Perrin: We are focused on addressing three main areas, which have really driven a lot of our thinking and, more importantly, our activity and change in the last several years.

First, we are working to help pediatric practices take on more community-based interventions to help young families raise their kids more effectively. There is a tremendous growth in the number of chronic diseases among children in four major areas: asthma, obesity, mental health, and neurodevelopmental disorders. We recognize these are not classic health conditions; they arise from and within communities, and both their prevention and their treatment are really community-based endeavors, as opposed to office-based activities.

Our second, and highly related priority, is an increased focus on early childhood development. We have understood the tremendous importance of early childhood for years, but there is now so much more science behind it. We know a lot more about how negative experiences and toxic stress can affect child development and how it can affect brain growth and neuroendocrine function. On the positive side, we also have more knowledge about the importance of reading to children, increasing language in the home, and other early-childhood interventions.

Thirdly, we have a better understanding of the tremendous impact of poverty on child health. Almost a quarter of American children live in households below the federal poverty line, and almost 45 percent live in households with incomes less than twice the federal poverty line. So a large number of American children are poor or near poor, and we know that poverty affects essentially everything related to child health. It makes those four categories of chronic conditions—asthma, obesity, mental health, and neurodevelopmental disorders—more prevalent and more serious, and it affects children’s responses to treatment. Lower-income kids with leukemia or cystic fibrosis, for example, have higher death rates than kids with the same diseases who are middle class. It’s impossible not to see on a daily basis how poverty affects child health.

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Aug 26 2014

An Expanded Role for Nurses in Chronic-Condition Care

As health reform increases access to care for people with chronic conditions at a time when the supply of primary care physicians is decreasing, one viable alternative is nurse-managed protocols for outpatient treatment of adults with diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol, according to a study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

The research team reviewed 18 studies on the effectiveness of registered nurses (RNs) in leading the management of those three chronic conditions. In all 18 studies, nurses could adjust medication dosage; and in 11 studies, they could independently start patients on new medications. The review showed that patients with nurse-managed care had improved A1C levels, lower blood pressure and steeper reductions in LDL cholesterol.

“The implementation of a patient-centered medical home model will play a critical role in reconfiguring team-based care and will expand the responsibilities of team members,” the researchers wrote. “As the largest health care workforce group, nurses are in an ideal position to collaborate with other team members in the delivery of more accessible and effective chronic disease care.”

Read the study, Effects of Nurse-Managed Protocols in the Outpatient Management of Adults With Chronic Conditions.

Jul 24 2014

Sharing Nursing’s Knowledge: The July 2014 Issue

Have you signed up to receive Sharing Nursing’s Knowledge? The monthly Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) e-newsletter will keep you up to date on the work of the Foundation’s nursing programs, and the latest news, research, and trends relating to academic progression, leadership, and other essential nursing issues. Following are some of the stories in the July issue.

Nurses Lead Innovations in Geriatrics and Gerontology
As the nation becomes older and more diverse, and more people are living with chronic health problems, nurses are developing innovations in geriatric care. They are finding new ways to improve the quality of care for older adults; increase access to highly skilled health care providers with training in geriatrics; narrow disparities that disproportionately affect older minorities; avoid preventable hospital readmissions; and more. Nurse-led innovations are underway across the nation to improve care for older Americans.

Improving Care for the Growing Number of Americans with Dementia
By 2050, 16 million Americans—more than triple the current number—will have Alzheimer’s disease. RWJF Nurse Faculty Scholars are working now to get ahead of the problem. “We’re all well aware of our aging population and how we’re going to see more individuals with Alzheimer’s disease or some other form of dementia,” says alumna Elizabeth Galik, PhD, CRNP, who is researching ways to improve functional and physical activity among older adults with dementia.

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Jul 11 2014

How Stress Makes Us Sick

Keely Muscatell, PhD, is a social neuroscientist and psychoneuroimmunologist. She is a post-doctoral scholar in the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Health & Society Scholars program at the University of California (UC), San Francisco and UC, Berkeley.


Results from the recent NPR/RWJF/Harvard School of Public Health poll suggesting that Americans are living under high levels of stress probably don’t surprise anyone. In a way, I’ve been taking an informal version of this poll for the last six years, since when I tell people I meet on airplanes or at local bars that I study stress and health, I am unfailingly met with knowing glances and stories about stressors people are facing in their lives. Given that stress is pervasive (and problematic) in modern life, lots of current research in psychology and neuroscience is focused on understanding exactly how stress can get “into our brains” and “under our skin” to make us sick.


When we think of illness, one of the first things that comes to mind is the immune system, with its lymph nodes, white blood cells, and antibodies hanging around to help us fight off infections and heal our injuries. An especially important component of the immune system involves inflammation. If you’ve ever gotten a paper cut, you’ve probably noticed that the area of skin around the cut tends to turn red and warm up shortly after the injury. This happens because proteins called “pro-inflammatory cytokines” swim through your blood stream to the site of the wound, where they call out to other immune cells to come to the area and help heal the cut. In the short term, this is a good thing; those little cytokines are a key part of healing. But if inflammation becomes widespread throughout the body, cytokines can lead to depression and even physical diseases, like arthritis and heart disease.

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May 14 2013

Breaking the Silence on African-American Men’s Health

Keon L. Gilbert, DrPH, MA, MPA, is an assistant professor in the Department of Behavioral Science & Health Education at St. Louis University's College for Public Health and Social Justice. As a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation New Connections grantee, his research focuses on the social and economic conditions structuring disparities in the health of African American males. His work seeks to identify sources of individual, cultural, and organizational social capital to promote health behaviors, and health care access and utilization, to advance and improve the health and well-being of African American males. This is part of a series of posts looking at diversity in the health care workforce.


I became a public health professional because I recognized a need to find opportunities and strategies to prevent the chronic diseases I saw silently killing African Americans in the community where I grew up. I vividly recall as a child the whispers surrounding the deaths of community members about cancer, diabetes (or sugar-diabetes, as it is commonly referred to in many communities still today), heart attacks, and strokes. I knew there was stigma and fear, but never heard of programs, interventions, or opportunities to stop these trends.


My interest in addressing these problems led me to pursue summer programs and internships during high school that allowed me to witness amputations of uncontrolled diabetic patients who had a range of clinical and social co-morbid conditions. Many of these amputees were living in poverty, they had Medicare or Medicaid, and the majority happened to be African American. This experience raised the question about prevention: How could I prevent African American men and women from having amputations? I never heard this conversation around prevention in my community. Many people seemed to accept the reality of developing these chronic conditions as a fate that could not be controlled.

I knew there had to be another way.

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Apr 24 2013

Why Don’t Depressed People Live as Long as Others?

Jason Houle, PhD, is a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health & Society Scholar at the University of Wisconsin. He recently published a study online in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine that finds association between depressive symptoms and mortality is due to later health problems, not prior physical health conditions.


Human Capital Blog: Why did you decide to look at this particular topic?

Jason Houle: I first started looking at this topic in graduate school, when I took a course on event history models (a quantitative method often used when studying mortality). Up to that point, most of my research focused on the social determinants of mental health, but I had become increasingly interested in the link between mental and physical health. While there’s a long literature on how depression influences physical health (and vice versa), as a demographer, I was really interested in the link between depression and mortality. When researching this topic, I discovered a rather large literature that showed that people who experience depression tend to die younger, on average, than those who do not. However, it wasn’t clear from prior research why, exactly, depressed people tend to die younger than those who are not. Though it makes sense that depression is linked with mortality, the reasons behind it remained a puzzle, and I thought it would make an interesting project.

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Apr 5 2013

Spending Money to Save Money in Health Care

Ashok Reddy, MD, is a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Clinical Scholar in residence at the University of Pennsylvania and a senior fellow at the Leonard Davis Institute of Health Economics.  This is part of a series of essays, reprinted from the Leonard Davis Institute of Health Economics’ eMagazine, in which scholars who attended the recent AcademyHealth National Health Policy Conference reflect on the experience.


With the debate about the fiscal cliff and the sequester hanging so heavily over Washington, it was no surprise that congressional staffers at the AcademyHealth National Health Policy Conference seemed so exclusively focused on cutting health care spending. Some estimated that 30 percent of the $2.5 trillion spent on health care may provide little value; finding interventions that provide high-value care is a top priority that tends to obscure any other possibilities.

In this prevailing atmosphere of stark fiscal reality and gridlocked politics it can be hard to gain traction for the idea that investing in programs that prevent chronic diseases would ultimately decrease the costly long-term expenditures driven by those diseases. But that’s where traction is needed.

Take diabetes for instance. One estimate has the medical treatments for people with diabetes costing 2.4 times more than expenditures that would be incurred by the same group in the absence of diabetes. By preventing the development of diabetes in an individual you decrease the risk of heart attack, kidney failure and amputated extremities.

It is true that, so far, research in cost-effectiveness analyses has not shown that prevention reduces medical costs. Besides childhood vaccination and flu shots for the elderly, few health care services ‘save money.’ A 2010 Health Affairs article calculated that if 90 percent of the U.S. population used proven preventive services, it would save only 0.2 percent of health care spending.

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Dec 17 2012

The Role of Caregivers in Supporting Patients Living with Chronic Illness

Andrea Wallace, PhD, RN, is an assistant professor at the University of Iowa College of Nursing and a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Nurse Faculty Scholar.


Patients live in communities that offer support and include influences that are outside the walls of clinical settings. While this is not a new revelation, I have often had to remind myself and the students I teach that, as health care providers, we witness only a very small part of patients’ lives, generally at a time when they are most removed from their experience of daily living.

"I cringe to think of how many of my adult patients I’ve asked to adopt a complex medication schedule for their diabetes, all the while suspecting they may have limited literacy skills"

We must remain continually aware of patients’ personal and financial resources when planning care. But it was not until recently that I became incredibly taken with the idea that, for many patients living with chronic illness, it’s those who help patients care for themselves—the daughter picking up medications, the neighbor driving to appointments, the spouse doing shopping – who may make the difference between successfully and unsuccessfully coping with what can be incredibly complex self-management regimens.

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