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Getting the Most Out of Your Healthcare

February 21, 2017

It’s safe to say that most of us have experienced a visit to the doctor. We may go to the doctor to get treated for a health condition, to manage a chronic health condition, or to get a yearly physical. Some of us have experienced a surgery or hospitalization. Interaction with the Healthcare system is a common human experience—we need it and use it to stay healthy. Yet, sometimes navigating the system can be a challenge.

Healthcare System Changes
Our Healthcare system has undergone some big changes over the years and certainly does not look like it did in the past. For example, in the 1930’s and 40’s, there is a good chance that a doctor made a house call to provide treatment to a sick patient in his or her home. Medical care looks quite different these days, doesn’t it? Today, we typically make an appointment to go into our doctor’s office when we come down with a cold or the flu.

Other changes:

  • Payment methods
  • Insurance programs and plans
  • Increase in medical specialties
  • Healthcare organization

All of these changes can be overwhelming. They can leave us feeling disoriented and confused. But there is good news –we can use the powerful tools of knowledge and communication to navigate our Healthcare system.

Knowledge Equals Power
When we learn about our healthcare system, we are empowering ourselves to work with our system in order to move towards our healthiest self. But we do not need to study all of the small details of our Healthcare system in order to feel more confident navigating it –understanding the basics is what is important.

Each one of us has had our own experiences with medical care. We have unique health concerns, and different questions about the Healthcare system as a result. Perhaps you have recently enrolled in a new insurance plan and have questions about how that changes the way you pay for a doctor’s visit. Maybe you help to care for a loved one and have questions about how to juggle their multiple health conditions and doctor’s appointments. Take a minute today to think about the one or two largest questions you have about our Healthcare system. Then, start to explore and learn!

Here are some ideas for how to get started:

  • Identify one or two questions you have about your medical care
  • Consult reliable resources (i.e. health insurance providers, medical providers, health information. See “Additional Resources” below)
  • Visit with close friends who have a similar health concern

Shared Decision Making
As patients we know more because of the internet. We no longer accept the practice of strictly listening to our doctor and following their advice. This, of course, does not mean that we no longer need our medical providers! Our doctors, nurses, and other medical providers have specific skills and knowledge that come from their extensive training. They can help us make sense of the vast amount of medical information available. But we expect to take part in the decision-making process.

The transition from doctor-knows-best to shared-decision making is difficult. Learning as much as we can before seeing our medical providers is the key to communicating effectively with them. While overwhelming at times, this change is positive and exciting. We can achieve a lot of ownership over our health!

Communication is Key
It seems as though communication is key for most things in life, doesn’t it? We need it to maintain successful friendships and relationships and to manage projects at work. Navigating our medical system is no different. We need to communicate effectively with our medical providers in order to work towards optimal health.

SDSU Extension is here to help enhance your experience navigating the modern healthcare system. This article is the first in a series that will cover specific topics related to navigating the Healthcare system we have now through gaining knowledge and communicating effectively with your Healthcare providers.

Source: Lauren Pierce, South Dakota State University, iGrow