Acute versus Chronic: What does that mean?

Health care needs are often divided between acute care and chronic care. While everyone nods, their head, some will wonder, what does that really mean?

Acute care is health care provided to a person for an illness or injury that just happened. Examples of acute care are treating a person for an ear ache, a fractured ankle, a sore throat, a cough that just started in the last few days.

Chronic care is health care provided to a person for an illness or injury that has been going on for longer than two weeks. Examples of chronic health care are treating a person with congestive heart failure, arthritis, or a cough that has been persistent for months.

In the health care management field, we will work in systems that provide care for people who have acute clinical needs and those with chronic health needs. The newest legislative impetus is in the area of preventive care. Preventive care is focused on both types of care.

In the acute care realm, well baby visits, immunizations, mammography, and other standard measures are preventive care aimed to prevent many types of acute illnesses that could eventually lead to a chronic condition. In addition, having clean drinking water and good hand hygiene will also prevent many acute illnesses like colds and flu bugs.

It is more challenging to discuss preventive care for chronic health needs. Many chronic conditions took years to develop. Preventing some chronic conditions is elusive. For example, common forms of arthritis. Arthritis is the wearing out of joint services resulting in pain and disability. All will develop some form of osteoarthritis if long lived. It is a disease of an aging body.

There are many types of preventive measures that do seek to stop some chronic conditions from having a start. For example, adult onset types of diabetes may be able to be controlled by eating well, avoid becoming overweight, and exercise.

As health care managers meet the challenges of moving toward preventive care, we must be mindful that preventive care is truly a broad brushed approach and paradigm change to the way health care is delivered now. Acute care and chronic care will still be needed. Preventive care looks at how to reduce health care issues in both realms.