Heart failure is a lifelong condition. So you will have
dozens—or even hundreds—of appointments with various health professionals
while you have the disease.
Creating ongoing and lasting relationships with these professionals
can give you:
Better control of your heart failure symptoms and
Treatment tailored to your own needs.
Your health care team
You will not be left alone with the task of
managing your disease. You will see several doctors, specialists, and nurses. Each will offer you specific suggestions and guidance that can help you to
control your heart failure. The number of health professionals you see will
probably grow over time. Your health care team can include doctors,
nurses, cardiac surgeons, physical and occupational therapists, dietitians,
social workers, and pharmacists.
With such a large care team, you might forget that you must also play an active role in managing your heart failure. In fact, you are the most important member of your treatment
team. If you don't take part and cooperate in managing your
condition, no amount of effort by your doctors and nurses will improve your health.
Each member of your medical team plays an important role
in heart failure treatment. But your doctors and nurses help guide you in making the
best treatment decisions for you.
Your primary care doctor will act as the coach of your health care
team. Your coach may be a family doctor or a cardiologist. He or she will create and correct your drug treatment plan, regularly
check in on the symptoms of your disease, and coordinate your care
with other members of your care team. Your doctor will also help you to understand
your overall prognosis and the specifics of how your drugs should be
How often you see your doctor will usually depend on how far your
heart failure has progressed. If you have class I or II heart failure, you may
see your doctor 2 or 3 times a year. At those visits, your doctor will check your overall health and ask you
important questions about your lifestyle. If you have more advanced (class III
or IV) heart failure, you might see your doctor more often.
The nurses involved in your care have four main roles. They:
Help assess your symptoms and how they affect
your lifestyle. They may also be able to give you tips to help you
control your disease and make your treatment plan easier.
quickly to any changes in your health or concerns you may have about your heart
Help educate you about your heart failure. Much of the
education that you receive over the months and years of your heart
failure will come from your nurses. Nurses also will work hard to encourage
your active participation in treatment. They will almost always be available to
answer any of your questions about heart failure.
Act as a link
between you and your doctor. When you have a problem that requires your
doctor's attention, your nurse can decide which information is
important to tell your doctor.
Communicating with your care team
You can't follow your health care team's orders
unless you take the time to understand them fully. Open, two-way communication
between you and the members of your health care team is the key to a successful
relationship. Make sure to listen to everything they have to say.
But they will also be listening to you. Tell them about how you have been feeling
between visits and about any concerns you have about your health.
Remember that you should feel comfortable discussing any aspect of
your health or life with your health professionals. There are no wrong questions, especially if it is something that concerns you. Do not be
intimidated by their level of education or by how busy they are. Focus on
taking an active role in your visits with the health care team members.
It may be hard to remember exactly who does what. The following table may help you understand the roles of each person on your care team.
Your health care team
Role in your care
Primary care physician (PCP)
Your PCP coordinates the care of your heart failure with
other illnesses or conditions that you may also have.
This is a doctor specialized in caring for your heart. He or she is
responsible for your heart failure care.
Heart failure specialist
This is a cardiologist specialized in caring for heart
failure. He or she is responsible for your heart failure care if you have severe or
very complicated heart failure or are seeking an experimental treatment.
This doctor is trained to operate on the heart. He or she
performs surgeries, such as coronary artery bypass graft (CABG) surgeries and
A nurse educates and cares for you during your illness and
answers many of your questions.
A nurse practitioner also educates and cares for you during your illness and
answers many of your questions.
This health professional is specially trained in recovery. He or she helps you improve your strength and endurance after surgery or a heart
A dietitian teaches you about nutrition and develops diets to
promote your health.
This health professional is specially trained to help
in your physical recovery so you can return to your previous job or train for a
new type of job.
He or she offers advice about the financial, legal, and
emotional aspects of your treatment.
A pharmacist answers questions about how often to take your drugs
and the side effects they might cause.
How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.