by Stewart B. Segal, MD
Follow-up visits to the doctor’s office are essential in many cases. While treating a patient for an acute illness, follow-up is often necessary to assure that the treatment is appropriate, effective, and safe, and that the illness has completely resolved. When dealing with an injury, follow-up is essential to assure that recovery is complete; and that, if necessary, rehabilitation is ordered and effective. Follow-up visits are absolutely necessary when dealing with chronic illness.
Merriam-Webster defines chronic as “marked by long duration, by frequent recurrence over a long time, and often by slowly progressing seriousness”. Chronic illnesses such as hypertension, diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and heart disease, are marked by long duration and progression. The problem arises from the fact that their rate of progression is extremely variable and their consequences, potentially grave. Follow-up visits are designed to monitor for progression of the disease process, as well as to access treatment options and consequences.
Treating chronic illness is fraught with potential problems. As stated above, the progression of the disease itself is a major problem. Medicinal treatments offer both hope and concern. While medications offer the hope of reversal, control or slowing of the progression of chronic illness, they are not risk free. Medications come with a host of potential side effects, interactions and possible toxicities. Treating chronic illness is a carefully choreographed dance. The variables involved include the individual patient’s idiosyncrasies, the cumulative effects of the medication, and the passage of time. What is effective today may not be effective tomorrow.
It is incumbent on you, the patient, and your doctor,to set up a monitoring system designed to find problems long before they become significant. Everyone is aware of the military’s “early warning” systems employed globally to assure our peace and safety. It is essential that you have your own “early warning” system to assure your own personal safety. Please follow-up as directed. Please take your health seriously.
In keeping with my theme of “educate or medicate”, finding early warning signs of progression of chronic illness allows you to take charge, adjust life style and medication, and mitigate the consequences. The life you save may be your own.