The need for a widely applicable definition of chronic conditions for research, policy, and program development has led to an extensive review of the development of such definitions, the considerations involved in their use, and some recommendations for a new approach. This paper examines some of the methodologic and conceptual issues related to defining and classifying chronic conditions and describes some consequences resulting from decisions made about these issues. While most examples are taken from child health applications, the basic concepts apply to all age groups. The dominant method for identifying and classifying children as having a chronic condition has relied on the presence of an individual health condition of lengthy duration. This condition-specific or "categorical" approach has increasingly seemed neither pragmatically nor conceptually sound. Thus, the development of a "generic" approach, which focuses on elements that are shared by many conditions, children, and families, is recommended. Such a definition might reflect the child's functional status or ongoing use of medical services over a specified time period. In addition, it is suggested that conditions be classified based on the experience of individual children, thus emphasizing the tremendous variability in expression of seemingly similar conditions.

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