As we age, we use more healthcare services. We visit the doctor more, take more prescriptions, and generally spend more money than when we are younger. At the same time, we lose some cognitive capacity and our tolerance for risk. The net result is we are less capable of making important health decisions, when we most need to.
I watched my Father have a stroke in a town without an advanced stroke center. His treatment was not what I would call “standard of care”, and I saw the thousands of invoices and statements that followed. Bags of medications, most of which he had no idea what they were for.
As a decision scientist who helps people make better choices, this area is very near to my heart. And upsetting.
We need to choose our healthcare wisely! I want to pass on a few simple tips that I have seen most people over-look when choosing in healthcare.
- Focus on Quality. Don’t settle on who is the closest hospital or doctor’s office. Sadly, the websites that try to compare doctors and hospitals are really not good, and they don’t help you choose. If you are in a small town and need some specialized care, find a large hospital that has specialized care. Don’t just settle on what is close.
- Don’t just take your friend’s word on Reputation. Look up the facility. If you need a hospital, consider finding a “teaching hospital” – these are the most advanced places of care, where doctors are trained in the latest treatments.
- Check Prices. We don’t ever really know what it will cost when we visit a hospital, given the way insurance works. But, if you know you have a procedure coming up, spend a few minutes calling and asking them to check your insurance and give you an idea of costs. I’ve seen so many people financially devastated by illnesses (an ED visit, cancer, having a baby) – spend a little time and check on this first.
- Practice Mindful Questioning. Your physician will likely treat you and leave you with a set of instructions. Most of these, we (i.e., normal consumers) can’t follow or understand. Practice mindful questioning–ask questions at a very basic level; Where do I get the prescription?; How many of those do I take?; What are they for again?; What did you say I have? It is your body, your health- don’t worry about taking up their time. Ask!
- Make Notes. Keep a journal of what your doctor has told you, and what you need to do. You’d be surprised how quickly we forget what we were just told. You may think you know, but an hour later, you have forgotten your condition and what medication you are on. This happens to us all.
- Don’t Procrastinate. Finally, I have worked with way too many men and women who simply avoid healthcare. Get your annual checkup! Follow-up routinely. Take your medications!
I hope these tips are useful to somebody, and can help you or your loved ones make wiser choices.