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Acute Care Vs. Chronic Care Vs. Long-Term Care

By Dr. David Brown ; Updated August 14, 2017

The health system in the United States is based on acute, chronic and long-term care. The type of care you receive depends on the medical problem or problems for which you're being treated. In some cases, you may transition from one level of care to another over the course of an illness.

Acute Care

Acute care encompasses treatment of illnesses and disorders in a relatively short amount of time. Activities typically include seeking treatment for a short-term illness or injury and possible rehabilitation after injury. Common examples of acute care include receiving treatment for a cold, sprain or appendicitis or recovering from the delivery of a baby.

Chronic Care

Chronic care describes the long-term monitoring and treatment of ongoing diseases or disorders, such as cerebral palsy, sickle cell anemia, diabetes, high blood pressure, Alzheimer disease, rheumatoid arthritis and heart disease. The primary care provider or family physician typically spearheads chronic care management. Although there is no known cure from chronic conditions, the goal of management is to slow or halt disease progression and optimize health.

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Long-Term Care

Long-term care typically refers to extended medical and social services required by people with chronic conditions to help them live as independently as possible despite significant challenges. Medical, social, housing, transportation and other services may be required. Long-term care may be delivered in community settings, such as adult day cares; institutional settings, such as nursing homes; or informal settings, such as in the homes of -- or with the support of -- friends and family.

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