Current and Past Health

Understanding the client’s current and past health is important and may provide an explanation or rationale for the client’s current health status as illustrated in Figure 2.5. Furthermore, these data can provide insight into health promotion needs and co-morbidities. It is helpful to understand the current and past health profiles before assessing other aspects of health, as the information will inform subsequent questions.

A baby inhales second-hand smoke from a member of the household. When the grows older as a child, they are using an inhaler with a spacer to treat asthma symptoms.
Figure 2.5: The influence of past health on current health

The order of the questions about current and past health, and the detail elicited, often depends on the client’s main health needs and developmental status. Not all questions apply to every client; their use and phrasing is contingent on the individual client and their situation.

Clinical Tip

Your questions should also be based on the client’s response to the previous question.

As you develop your clinical judgment, which comes with practice, you will become more astute about which questions are appropriate and how to frame the questions. Table 2.4 provides sample questions for assessing current and past health, but other questions may arise that you may need to ask depending the client’s main health needs and their responses.

Health Items Questions and Statements Considerations
 

Current health
Issues other than their previously noted main health needs/reasons for seeking care.

  • Are there any other issues affecting your current health?

Probes

  • Tell me more.
  • How is that affecting you?
 

Although the client may not have made the connection, other health issues are sometimes related to their main health need. For example, they may report a fever in addition to an earache.

 

Childhood illnesses
Type, timing, treatment, hospitalizations, complications, disability

  • Tell me about any significant childhood illnesses that you had.
  • When did it occur?
  • How did it affect you?
  • How did it affect your day-to-day life?
  • Were you hospitalized? Where? How was it treated?
  • Who was the treating practitioner?
  • Did you experience any complications?
  • Did it result in a disability?
 

The probing questions may be more important to ask when the illnesses may impact the client later in life.

 

Chronic illnesses
Type, timing, impact, treatment, hospitalizations, complications, disability

  • Tell me about any chronic illnesses you currently have or have had (e.g., cancer, cardiac, hypertension, diabetes, respiratory, arthritis).

Probes

  • How has the illness affected you?
  • How do you cope with the illness?
  • When were you diagnosed?
  • Who was the treating practitioner?
  • How was the illness being treated?
  • Have you been hospitalized? Where?
  • Have you experienced any complications?
  • Has the illness resulted in a disability?
  • How does the illness affect your day-to-day life?
 

Chronic illnesses can significantly impact a client’s life both physically and psychosocially.

 

Acute illnesses, accidents, or injuries
Type, timing, treatment, hospitalizations, complications, disability

  • Tell me about any acute illnesses that you have had.
  • Tell me about any accidents or injuries you currently have or have had.

Probes

  • When did it occur?
  • Were you hospitalized? Where?
  • How was it treated?
  • Who was the treating practitioner?
  • Did you experience any complications?
  • Has it resulted in a disability?
  • How did it affect your day-to-day life?
 

Falls are an increasing health issue as a person ages or if they are taking several medications. This is partly related to decreases in muscle strength and balance and multimorbidity. It is important to assess the client’s risk for falls and fall prevention. Check out the Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario (2017) best practice guideline: Preventing Falls and Reducing Injury from Falls

 

Obstetrical health
Number of pregnancies, full-term deliveries, pre-term deliveries, number of living children, fertility treatments, miscarriages, abortions, and other data related to current or past pregnancy

  • Have you ever been pregnant?
  • Do you have plans to get pregnant in the future?
  • Tell me about your pregnancies.
  • Have you ever had difficulty conceiving?
  • How was your labour and delivery?
  • Tell me about your postpartum experience.
  • Were there any issues or complications?
 

These questions do not apply to all clients. Additionally, you should be aware that the feelings about pregnancy can be complex and may not always be happy.

Table 2.4: Current and past health assessment

 

Clinical Tip

The parents or a care partner are often present during an assessment of an infant or child. The adult child or care partner are sometimes present during an assessment of an older adult, particularly if the client has an acute or chronic illness, or a cognitive impairment or developmental delay. Care partners are important advocates in care planning. Thus, a family-centred approach can help you assess the client, as well as the level of caregiver burden and the need for additional resources.

Take Action

In addition to a comprehensive assessment, you should engage in health promotion discussions about a client’s current and past health. For example, this may include helping the client to address any resolved issues associated with chronic and acute illnesses. Additionally, you should consider how the client can develop control over, and improve their physical, mental, and social well-being. You should assess and discuss with them their social and personal resources to do so. Also, evaluate and intervene with critical findings related to current and past health that include anything that puts the client’s life at risk.

Test Yourself

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The Complete Subjective Health Assessment by jlapum; Oona St-Amant; Michelle Hughes; Paul Petrie; Sherry Morrell; and Sita Mistry is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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