For Your Health!
I'm not sure if it is due to the fact that this Valentine's Day marks the two-year anniversary of the beginning of my cancer journey, or because this holiday is represented by hearts, but I have health care on my mind. Maybe the fact that my tumor was right next to my heart also has something to do with it. However the connection came to be, it's real and I need to tell you about it. And evidently, I'm not alone.
Have you brought up the topic of today's health care with any of your friends, associates or even strangers lately? A lot of unhappy people are complaining about a broken system with frustrated care givers and confused, angry patients who can't seem to get their needs met. Even President Bush was compelled to talk about it last week when he offered a solution of increasing tax-deferred health care spending accounts (HSA) so every employee would have better access, involvement and control of their health care dollars. He even talked about the need for better communication between providers and patients. Amen!
I can tell you that I'm celebrating my two year cancer remission this month because I took an active role in my care. From the moment my primary care doctor called me to say my chest x-ray showed an abnormality and that I needed a CAT scan, I chose to partner with my doctor. She and her very capable staff were on my team, along with all the other specialists and surgeons I enlisted, but I always knew I was the empowered leader. And, that is exactly how I acted - it was only my life at stake.
I'm convinced that self-activated and assertive patients will be the key to improving our nation's health care system. We simply have to stop putting up with it. The health care industry doesn't have what the auto industry had - the Japanese automaker that forced Detroit (where I grew up, by the way) to sit up and take notice. As a result, American-made cars were forced to go through a total quality improvement process to stay competitive. If health care was forced to look and act more like a retail business, you can bet things would begin to change.
I recently read and had the privilege of meeting, Pamela Armstrong, MPH, MBA, author of Surviving Healthcare, How to Take Charge and Get the Best From Your Doctor, Your Hospital, And Your Health Insurance (Chestnut Ridge Books 2004). This is a must read for any American who will inevitably one day be forced to navigate the treacherous waters of health care, either for themselves or a loved one, and typically under a lot of stress and with no warning. Armstrong's book offers an insider's view and is chalked full of case studies, practical tips, strategies, and most importantly, solutions for assuring a successful health care experience.
Here are just a few tips for Perfecting Connecting® your health adapted from Armstrong's book and my own personal experience;
Perfecting Connecting® Tips:
Perfecting Connecting® Action Steps:
- Seek to find a provider that matches your communication style and don't ever settle for someone who doesn't treat you with dignity and respect. Interview potential providers to make sure you are compatible and that you "speak the same language." I spent a lot of precious energy trying to manage better communication with a specialist who I ultimately fired. Finding one who I did connect with made all the difference in the quality of my care experience.
- You are in control of your care so act that way. Always ask for copies of your labs, x-rays or reports. Start to maintain a Health Care Passport. My friend and colleague, Dr. Tray Dunaway designed one that holds all the information necessary to get an accurate picture of your current and past health status. Trust me, when you're facing a life threatening illness, you can barely remember your name let alone what medications you're currently taking.
- Build your personal network now, not when you're in crisis. Expand your knowledge of local health care resources in your community and reach out to them. My personal network was able to connect me with the resources I needed quickly, which allowed me to start my treatment weeks before my doctors and insurance company would have scheduled it. I know my network made a huge impact on my positive outcome. Having established those contacts ahead of time made it much easier to ask for help when I needed it.