In spite of advances in the prevention and early detection of disease, most of us need treatment from time to time to relieve symptoms or cure an illness. Patterns of medical care have changed recently: although major surgery and treatment for serious short-term illness still take place in hospital, people are now discharged as soon as possible. In addition, many long-term treatments and procedures now take place in the home or in an outpatient department without the need for admission to hospital.
In this section
The range of care and therapies that is available today to treat illness and injury is extensive. The first choice for most people is treatment recommended by their doctor, which is usually with drugs, surgery, or, in some cases, with therapies such as physiotherapy or occupational therapy. Your doctor recommends such treatments because their effectiveness is supported by evidence from properly conducted trials. There is also a wide range of complementary therapies available, such as acupuncture, homeopathy, and hypnotherapy. However, in most cases there is little or no scientifically sound evidence to support their effectiveness. Consequently, your doctor will not usually recommend complementary therapies, although he or she may sometimes suggest a complementary therapy if there is evidence that it is effective and if he or she feels it might be useful in your particular case.
Location of care
The current emphasis is on providing care and therapies either in the home or in outpatient departments rather than in hospital. There are two reasons for this trend. The first is that the cost of hospital care is far greater than the cost of care as an outpatient. Secondly, visiting an outpatient department or receiving care in familiar surroundings is, for most people, preferable to being in hospital. However, there are times when hospital facilities and a skilled medical team are essential, as in the case of severe illness or injury or when a person who has a long-term illness cannot be cared for at home.
Choice of therapies
The type of care or therapy that is most appropriate for an individual depends on the severity of the illness or injury. Choice is an important element, and health-care professionals always try to consider the wishes of the individual. At one extreme, a person with an acute illness or a serious injury may require emergency admission to hospital and treatment in an intensive therapy unit. At the other extreme, a person who has strained a muscle may only need to have a short course of physiotherapy in a local outpatient department.
Therapies such as physiotherapy and occupational therapy are used to rehabilitate a person, usually following an acute illness or injury. They also help a person to remain independent during a long-term illness. Of equal importance are psychological therapies that are used to treat mental health problems, such as depression.
Complementary therapies have been used for centuries and many have seen a surge in popularity in recent years. However, doctors tend to restrict their recommendation of complementary therapies to the ones that, like all conventional medical treatments, are backed by sound evidence from controlled trials, and few complementary therapies meet this criterion.
Care of the dying
Over the last few decades, there has been an increasing awareness that a person who is dying has unique needs. As a result, caring for people with a terminal illness has become a medical speciality. The medical and nursing care that addresses the needs of people who are dying is known as palliative care, and its main focus is on relieving distressing symptoms, such as pain and shortness of breath, with drugs and other techniques. The overall aim of palliative care is to provide a comfortable and dignified death while giving support to the partner and/or family of the dying person.
From the 2010 revision of the Complete Home Medical Guide © Dorling Kindersley Limited.
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