Little is known about how patients with low socioeconomic status (SES) experience their chronic disease, and how it impacts health-related quality of life (HRQoL). Compared to their more affluent counterparts, worse outcomes have been reported. A better understanding of the domains of HRQoL that are relevant to these specific populations is therefore needed. We explored the experiences of living with a chronic disease in low SES persons.
A qualitative interview study was performed in Flanders, Belgium. Semi-structured interviews were conducted in chronically ill patients, selected through purposive sampling. Interviews were audio-recorded and transcribed verbatim. Analysis followed an inductive and iterative approach.
Fifteen patients were interviewed. Six major themes were identified: a heavy bag to carry, loss of autonomous life, inner and outer loneliness, emotional imbalance, unmet need for support, and coping strategies. Patients experienced their illness as an additional problem on top of all other problems (i.e. financial/social problems, traumatic life events). In general, the disease burden and non-disease burden were mutually reinforcing, resulting in greater dependency, greater risk of social isolation, greater psychological distress, and greater risk of impaired HRQoL.
This study is the first to provide detailed insight into the experiences of living with a chronic disease in low SES persons. A conceptual model is proposed that can be used in daily clinical practice to raise awareness among clinicians and health care providers that the patient’s needs go beyond the disease itself. Future research is needed to validate and test the model.