How Disease Staging Improves Treatment

George Wu is an accomplished surgeon, informaticist, and healthcare business consultant. A leader in innovation for health information technology, George has joined Peer Health as a Clinical Advisor.

Greg McKelvey Jr. is also a physician joining Peer Health as a Clinical Advisor. As a current Fellow in medicine and informatics at the University of Washington, Greg is helping to optimize the health of populations through the power of data science.

Receiving a diagnosis is overwhelming, confusing, and emotional. Unfortunately, it is only the first stage of managing a chronic illness. Each disease state has a series of individual stages, a concept similar to the stages of grief.  Having the ability to understand these stages is another important step to improving health literacy and outcomes.

Chronic illness’ are complex, and for this reason, the disease state staging varies for each specific disease condition. When looking at cancer conditions, the stages are classified differently than that of chronic Lyme Disease. But, regardless of the condition, understanding the stages of the chronic illness experience can better help integrate illness into your life.

Staging provides a snapshot of  diagnosis, treatment pathways, and prognosis. Not only does it facilitate management by the physician, it also creates a structured definition of one’s disease state and future health. Understanding these stages doesn’t guarantee a cure, but can help improve the quality of life. Having a concrete definition for the patient is critical because it can help with a deeper understanding of one’s health and can provide guidance on improvement or deterioration of one’s disease state. By expanding the classification approach to medical conditions beyond malignancy, more personalized care can be delivered either from the doctor or from one’s self-directed management.

Personalized care planning1 and messaging for self-management2 are both strategies to improve outcomes in long-term illnesses. By connecting peers with similar condition subgroups (e.g., “stages”), patients can be made more aware of their disease state, understand pros and cons of different treatment options (e.g., traditional pathways versus clinical trials), and provide peer-to-peer psychosocial support. Connecting with these peers is the first step to improving health literacy, outcomes, clinical trial awareness, and disease state understanding.

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1 Coutler A et al. Personalised care planning for adults with chronic or long-term health conditions. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2015 Mar 3;(3):CD010523.
2 De Jongh T et al. Mobile phone messaging for facilitating self-management of long-term illnesses. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2012 Dec 12;12:CD007459.

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