They say that getting old isn’t for wimps. Well, neither is navigating our healthcare system. The financial piece alone can feel overwhelming at times, between the cost of prescriptions, copayments, items that aren’t covered by insurance, and surprise medical bills. Even talking to one’s doctor can be challenging, especially under time constraints. How can you advocate for yourself and find trusted resources when you need them?
Become your own health advocate
Create strategies for optimizing doctor appointments, managing a hospital stay, organizing claims, and improving communication with healthcare providers. Better yet, enlist a friend or family member to attend your doctor visits, write summaries, and explain confusing forms.
Before your doctor visit
- Prepare in advance by selecting up to three key issues.
- Bring a list of medications with names, dosages, and the time of day you take them. Include prescriptions, over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and marijuana (medicinal or recreational).
- Keep a binder of your medical history and your healthcare service providers. No one knows your history like you do. Electronic medical systems are not always complete or integrated.
At your doctor visit
- Does your doctor listen to you? Do you feel respected? Does your interaction feel like a partnership? If your doctor is using jargon, is it further explained with plain, simple language?
- Is your doctor making ageist, racist or sexist assumptions? Being older does not mean that your memory is impaired or that you cannot make your own decisions.
- Will you be able to recall and implement your doctor’s instructions once you get home? Do you have a printed summary or an easy way to access your online medical records?
Reach out for help
- Be proactive about paperwork. If you’ve received a confusing medical bill, contact the doctor’s office manager or hospital’s billing department and ask for a detailed explanation. Sometimes just understanding the bill reduces confusion and anxiety.
- Some senior centers, aging-in-place communities and retirement villages have an advocate program with trained volunteers to escort you to medical appointments.
- Contact social service agencies in your town to ask about health advocates. You can also explore local and national resource directories online at washaa.org and www.aphadvocates.org.
Karen Vogel is a private, independent patient advocate. She has been professionally involved with health education and insurance management for more than three decades. She consults with consumers on health insurance navigation and claims review, and counsels boomers with aging parents. Visit www.kazadvocate.com.