You and Your Healthcare Team:
When you have a chronic condition, an open, trusting relationship with your healthcare professional is almost as important as sticking with your treatment regimen. When you have a heart condition, you may have lots of healthcare professionals treating you. In many cases, the providers you’ll see include:
- Primary care doctor
- Nurse practitioner
It can get a little confusing, especially at first, if you’re not sure which person is treating you for what.
While you may at times be under the care of a cardiologist, cardiac surgeon or other specialist, you’ll still consult your primary care doctor for most of your healthcare needs. Your primary care doctor is typically a general internist or a family physician. He or she is there to
Meet your preventive health needs (regular check-ups and tests)
- Be your first contact when you experience medical problems (related to your heart condition or any other condition)
- Serve as your main contact for questions and advice
Your primary care doctor
During office visits, your primary care doctor will probably ask you a lot of questions about how you’re doing at managing your condition. Sometimes it might seem easier to say that everything is great, even when it isn’t. If you’re having trouble with anything, let your doctor know. Doctors are there to help you, but they can’t get to the real issues if you don’t open up and let them know what those issues are.
Fr example, if you haven’t been able to stop smoking completely, or at all, tell your doctor. The two of you can talk together about the best way to quit. If it’s difficult to change your eating habits, tell your doctor exactly why it’s difficult. Or if you can’t seem to get into an exercise routine, talk about that with your doctor too.
Your primary care physician is there to give you professional advice, to point you in the direction of help when appropriate and to offer new solutions when other methods have been less successful.
If you have heart disease, there’s a good chance that you’ll be referred to a cardiologist for some of your care. Your primary care physician may recommend a cardiologist or you may choose one yourself. The cardiologist usually serves as a consultant to other doctors, although many provide general medical care for their patients. As your cardiac care proceeds, your cardiologist will guide your care and plan tests and treatment with the rest of your healthcare team.
Cardiology, or the discipline of medicine that specializes in heart disease, is a complex and sophisticated field. A cardiologist has special training and skill in finding, treating and preventing diseases of the heart and blood vessels in adults.
A pediatric cardiologist has special training and skill in finding, treating and preventing heart and blood vessel disease in infants, children and teenagers. In some cases, the pediatric cardiologist begins diagnosis and treatment in the fetus and continues treatment into the patient’s adulthood.
After four years of medical school, these highly trained physicians spend from six to eight additional years in specialized training. A cardiologist receives three years of training in internal medicine and three or more years in specialized cardiology training. A pediatric cardiologist receives three years of training in pediatrics, and three or more years in specialized pediatric cardiology training.
If you have a heart condition or high cholesterol, you’ve probably heard a lot about the key role of diet. For many people, changing a lifetime of not-so-healthy eating habits is one of the most difficult parts of treating their condition. Often, a professional nutritionist can be a helpful addition to your healthcare team.
Nutritionists plan healthy eating programs for people who have special dietary requirements. Sometimes they also supervise the preparation and serving of meals.
One key role a nutritionist can take is getting you and your family “on the same page” when it comes to making dietary changes. He or she can help you make changes at a comfortable pace, and encourage other family members to take part—an important step to success. Some specific recommendations a nutritionist may make include:
Your nurse practitioner
Nurse practitioners play an important role in patient care. Besides performing some tests and providing general nursing care, they also provide education, information and counseling to patients. Nurse practitioners are trained to
- Educate you about your particular condition
- Advise you about what kind of food plan you should follow, including helping you make good choices at the grocery store and in restaurants
- Support you if you’re trying to stop smoking by giving you advice about different quit methods
- Help you come up with an exercise plan that you can fit into your schedule
- Talk with you about any stress or depression you may be having as a result of your condition, and refer you to a mental health professional if necessary
When you’re feeling like you need information and advice, your nurse practitioner is often the first person you should turn to. If you would benefit more from talking with a different type of healthcare provider, such as a physician or a nutritionist, for example, your nurse practitioner will point you in the right direction.
The most important member of your healthcare team: you!
Remember, you are also a member of your healthcare team. Your active participation is what makes medication regimens and lifestyle changes successful.
The American College of Cardiology.