Yvonne Johnson is just 56 years old, but believes that more than a decade of pain has aged her beyond her years. “A lot of people with chronic pain look a lot older than they are,” she confides.
Yvonne’s pain is connected to a combination of illnesses, including arthritis, fibromyalgia and Meniere's disease. She also suffers from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. In an effort to relieve the pain and manage her health, Yvonne’s medication regimen is complex. A nurse visits her at home in Fruita every week to help her organize her medications so she takes them correctly.
Meniere’s disease is an inner ear ailment that can cause dizziness and, in combination with powerful pain medication, Yvonne is prone to falling. “I’ve broken both of my shoulders. I broke my left shoulder and they said, ‘be careful that you don’t fall on it’. A week after I got home, I fell.” Yvonne also suffered a stroke that hindered her ability to speak clearly.
Although Yvonne saw her primary care physician regularly, she believed her medication list was getting longer while her conditions worsened. “With all the medications I was on, I couldn’t even drive. I couldn’t talk so that people could understand me.” Although her doctor was trying to help her reduce the number of medications she took, she needed another set of eyes and hands, so she could get the most out of her primary care visits.
“I have a bad memory and a hard time sequencing things and writing things down,” she says. “It’s hard for me to figure out what’s the most important thing to do and what’s not so important. I was afraid that if I kept falling, I would really hurt myself some day.”
As a member of Health First Colorado, Yvonne requested a care coordinator. On her next primary care visit, she was accompanied by Jaclyn Barfoot, RN, with Rocky Mountain Health Plans, who helped her express her concerns and helped Yvonne better understand the changes.
Yvonne believes her exams have been more comprehensive since Barfoot began coordinating her care. And over the next several visits, Barfoot worked with the her and her doctor to help reduce the number of medications Yvonne takes by about half.
“A lot of that was with her help,” Yvonne says.
Barfoot also empowers Yvonne to better manage her own care. “When she goes on appointments with me, she writes down notes and prioritizes things. She writes, number one, this is what the doctor wants you to do. Number two, these are the drugs that we’re stopping this time. She writes it all down and puts it in the paperwork for that day and I can see it—that I have to call this or that doctor and make an appointment, and everything else.”
“She saved my life, I really believe that,” Yvonne says. “When she talked to the doctor about my medications, the doctor was like, yeah, let’s do this and that, and I could understand it with her help. And now I don’t take so much.” Barfoot has helped Yvonne get physical and occupational therapy help at home to reduce the likelihood of falls, too.
Care coordination is “a lifeline,” Yvonne says. “They give you ideas about what you can do to better your health, or they know if there’s an organization that they feel can probably help you to get a plan going if you have a hard time with something.”