Advocating for your health in the age of COVID
Securing quality health care is more important than ever. However, as COVID-19 continues to overwhelm our health care system, it's become more difficult. Today, health care professionals are under an unfathomable amount of pressure. For this reason, it's more important than ever to take an active role in managing your own health care, as well as that of senior loved ones who aren't up to the task.
However, that doesn't mean being demanding and unpleasant with health care providers -- quite the contrary. It means doing your research, being prepared, and calmly keeping your goal in sight. As a professional patient advocate who deals with doctors and hospitals every day, these are my best tips for ensuring you get great health care.
• Keep an up-to-date medical summary, including health conditions, doctor visits, medications and dosages. Bring it with you when you see your doctors or in the event your hospitalized, and update it as needed.
• Educate yourself about your medical conditions, but choose your sources carefully. Instead of consumer magazines and websites, consult the National Institutes of Health website (nih.gov) and Drugs.com. Ask your doctor for resources, too.
• Be considerate of your doctors' time -- they have very little to spare! Write down your questions in advance (your doctor will love you for it). Save the personal chitchat, unless asked. However, when you don't understand what your doctor is saying, don't hesitate to request clarification.
• Be gracious. Smile, even under your mask (they'll see it in your eyes). Always thank your doctors and nurses for their care. Health care workers are under so much stress, expressions of gratitude matter.
• Pay attention and take notes when talking to health care providers, especially in a hospital setting. Busy people can make mistakes, even pros. If something seems off to you, question it respectfully.
• Know that medical errors are most likely to occur during hospital admissions and discharges. If possible (it may not be, due to COVID restrictions), have a loved one accompany you -- or accompany a loved one if you can.
• Following a hospitalization, request the medical records for your stay. This is your right, although you may not receive the records right away.
• When you have a great doctor, nurture that relationship. It's gold! But if you're unhappy with your doctor's care, find a provider who will better meet your needs. Don't rely on word-of-mouth or online reviews; the best referrals come from other trusted health care professionals.
Finally, when you're in over your head, ask for help. For example, if you've received a devastating diagnosis or you're weighing treatment options, you simply may not be able to think clearly. If you're lucky enough to have a doctor or nurse in the family, reach out. Otherwise, know that outside resources like professional patient advocates are there to help. Sometimes, we can't do it all ourselves.
• Teri Dreher is a board-certified patient advocate. A critical care nurse for more than 30 years, she recently founded Seniors Alone Guardianship & Advocacy Services (SeniorsAlone.org), a not-for-profit organization that serves the area's senior orphans. She also is the founder of NShore Patient Advocates, www.northshorern.com. Contact her at (312) 788-2640.