According to the U.S Department of Health and Human Services: “When you don't fully understand or can't act on information about your healthcare, you are more likely to be in poorer health.” The solution is to know how to make informed decisions about your healthcare.
Part of my practice is helping people navigate this path because it has become more challenging: The system is no longer simple and most people see multiple practitioners, which can add to the confusion and miscommunication (http://www.ahrq.gov/consumer/cc/cc090710.htm). So, how can we help the healthcare system help us? Since being an informed healthcare consumer is an extensive topic, I will start with the list of steps in this article and continue the subject in my upcoming columns.
Step One: Building Relationships
A key component to your health is establishing a good relationship with your doctor and other practitioners. The following principles may help to make it better:
• Like any relationship, be respectful of your caretakers. Doctors and nurses work hard in caring for people. More clinicians are experiencing burnout (54% of our doctors experience at least one burnout symptom according to the 2015 Mayo Clinic study). How can consumers make their care safer? Being assertive is helpful with your plan of care, but be cautious not to end up coming across as disrespectful or obnoxious. Think about what will motivate your provider to go the extra mile.
• Just because you read an article in a medical journal, it does not make you a doctor or nurse. I have personally heard people dispute medical facts, claiming that they read one study in a medical journal, and suddenly they are experts. Doctors and nurses have years of education and experience so that they have a better handle on the application of that knowledge. It is good to be informed, but know your boundaries; let your provider explain the practical application of what you have read. (It is understandable that this tendency happens more in the health field, but think about it logically: Would you read an article about engineering and suddenly think that you know more than the engineer? Let’s hope not, but it happens often in healthcare, and it can be dangerous for the consumer).
• On the other hand, new guidelines are published every year, which can be a challenge for providers to keep current on everything. If you discover something important in doing research about your condition or come up with an idea that you think will be beneficial in your treatment plan, by all means bring it up with your physician.
• Good time-management and organization can help make the office visit more efficient, your care safer and improve your relationship with your caretakers.
- Single-page medical summary: This is a useful tool to bring to the doctor’s office. List your name, date-of-birth, address, phone numbers, emergency contacts, insurance information and primary physician. Include a brief history of your medical conditions, allergies, surgeries, and current problem (if applicable) or reason for your visit. It saves time and gives you the opportunity to get to the “heart of the visit.”
- Don’t waste the caretaker’s time with “extraneous complaints” such as the cost of medications or difficulty finding a parking spot (AARP Bulletin, September 2016). As consumers, we complain about the little time that we have with our physicians, which is not something within their control and often frustrates them as well. Use your office visit wisely. It not only results in better care; it will more likely result in better bonding with your doctor.
Step Two: Gaining Knowledge
Become informed about your medical conditions and/or gain knowledge about preventative health measures.
• It starts with obtaining reliable health information. Doing research on your own is recommended, but can be complicated and confusing. Become familiar with credible sources such as Health on the Net Foundation (http://www.hon.ch/). It also means becoming familiar with understanding the meaning of Evidence-Based Medicine (EBM). Basically EBM means treatment options that have been researched and found to be beneficial to a population of people with a certain medical condition (https://www.guideline.gov/). According to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), a good question to ask your doctor is: Is my care based on the latest evidence.
• Seeking help for information: It may be helpful to talk with others who have the same condition in order to get advice. There are many reputable support groups or you might be referred by your healthcare providers to other patients who have the same condition. If situations are complex, you might choose to utilize patient advocacy services (http://www.ahrq.gov/consumer/cc.htm) and consult with nurses, therapists, and other providers of healthcare.
• Health Literacy: Health Literacy refers to not only how a person can find the information that he/she needs for healthcare services, but also how well they understand this information and then apply it appropriately. For example, Health Literacy in practice will determine how well a diabetic understands the diet regime and insulin coverage and applies that knowledge while traveling for business. Another example is how well does a cardiac patient understand the hospital discharge instructions in regard to medications and warning signs of complications once discharged from the hospital? It is known through qualitative reviews that almost 90 million Americans have only basic or below health literacy skills (http://healthcare411.ahrq.gov/column.aspx?id=373). This is a huge problem in our country – the lack of good health literacy leads to medication errors, safety concerns, and overall failed treatments and healthcare plans.
Next month, we will look at more steps to making informed decisions about your health and how to work with your physician in order to develop an effective plan of care. The outcome is worth the time and effort.
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