The More You Know, the Better You’ll Feel

Informed patients make the best consumers of medical care. But with so much information available from a wide variety of sources, as well as age and cultural differences and cost and access issues, becoming a good medical consumer isn’t as easy as buying groceries or shopping for a new lawnmower.

Access to reliable, accurate information is one challenge. Another is a patient’s ability, or willingness, to ask informed questions and educate themselves about their disease, illness, condition or surgery. Those questions can range from “Why are you suggesting this procedure or medicine?”  to “What are the costs?” But the grey area in between is enormous. People may be intimidated by medical professionals, afraid of sounding ignorant, or uncomfortable asking questions. The age of the patient, and the age of the physician or technician can be a factor, as well as gender and ethnicity.

There is a lot of quality information available online. Additionally, most large insurance companies have comprehensive websites, and many have information lines accessible by phone or email. Some insurance provider websites also provide cost-comparison tools, though not for all services and procedures, and sometimes just for Medicare services.

Employers should encourage their employees to learn as much as possible about treatments for an illness or disease, or before having surgery.  For example, many hospitals offer nurse navigators to help patients prepare for surgeries involving joint replacement (such as hips, knees and shoulders), and maternity and gastro-intestinal (GI) departments also offer materials, videos, booklets and informational forums.

Disease-management programs have become popular over the past decade. If you suffer from heart or respiratory disease, diabetes or other chronic conditions, specialized programs now exist for answering questions, and for measuring weight, blood pressure and blood sugar. Remote monitoring can involve electronic scales that register and communicate your weight loss or gain to offices staffed by technicians and nurses located anywhere in the country. They review the results, and if they see changes, can then call the patient or the patient’s physician to set up an appointment or recommend an intervention. Oftentimes, dedicated nurse hotlines exist for the patient, and he or she may be asked to complete periodic assessments, or they may receive regular calls to check on their status, to schedule appointments or to offer suggestions.

Employees who are not taking advantage of these programs are missing out on useful, important services that are included in their benefit package. Employers can remind employees about these programs, or encourage them to look into every possible resource prior to a planned surgery or maternity, or while recovering from an illness.

Hospitals also have interpreters available on staff, via phone or online to ensure that non-English-speaking patients’ questions are answered completely or clearly. And for some patients, a medical professional who looks or sounds like them can be the difference between going into a procedure with confidence or with fear – or not taking the risk at all.

Libraries now have extensive medical and healthcare sections. Additionally, many physician practices have created patient portals where you can access information about appointments, tests, results and recommendations, ask questions online or seek other information. These portals are confidential and easy to use, requiring online access only.

Finally, if you have questions for your doctor or nurse, you should ask them – call or request a face-to-face meeting and learn what you need to feel confident, less afraid and informed. Bring another person to act as a second set of ears, if necessary. Either way, if the office resists, it may be time to find another practice that welcomes your inquiries.

Understanding as much as possible about your healthcare helps you maintain control over your body, and over your wallet. The more active a role you take in your personal health, the better the results are likely to be.


 

If you’re not enjoying the benefits of a wellness program at your company, join CBIA Healthy Connections at your company’s next renewal. It’s free as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!