Published in The Woman Today, August/September 2015
Be a health advocate for you.
The human body is a fabulously complex machine. It’s made up of 650
muscles, 206 bones, 60,000 miles of blood vessels and over 100 trillion cells.
It is also susceptible to more than 20,000 documented diseases.
When we are sick or otherwise need to seek medical care, it can seem like
the health care industry is just as complex. Different physicians, multiple
locations, redundant forms—well, let’s just say that modern
health care can be challenging to navigate on a good day.
Dr. Rachel Nelson, a family practice physician at St. Luke’s P.S.
Rudie Medical Clinic, said that there is one more aspect that has impacted
the perceived complexity of health care—access to information. Said
Dr. Nelson, “As patients, the sheer volume of information that we
have at our fingertips is incredible. And while that can be empowering
for people, it can also add to the stress of the experience. It’s
not that unusual to talk to patients who believe their symptoms are indicators
of something much more serious because of ‘something they read on
Own your own health
In an age where most of us carry a device in our pocket that grants us
access to an unlimited amount of information, the first step to being
an empowered patient, says Dr. Nelson, is to get information from reliable
sources. “The internet is awash with theories and stories that have
little to nothing to do with medical reality,” she said. “In
order to be your own best advocate, make sure you are getting your health
care information from reputable places.” Patients primed with quality
information, with access to their medical information, are people better
equipped to be advocates for their own health.
Dr. Nelson observed that 20 years ago, the doctor/patient dynamic was much
more one-sided. “It used to be that you went to the doctor, he or
she told you what to do, and that was that.” Patient questions weren’t
always welcomed in the exam room, she said. Today, that dynamic has changed.
“Patients are much more informed, and are more involved in their
own care—and that’s a good thing. I view the relationship
that I have with every patient as a partnership.”
“Being an advocate for your health means that you are knowledgeable
about your health, asking questions about your care and treatment. I encourage
patients to ask about the benefits, risks—and even costs—of
their treatment. That kind of engagement leads to healthier patients,” she said.
Making the complex simple
In one of the more welcome advances in health care, patients now have a
powerful ally to help them stay organized and engaged—the patient
portal. A patient portal is a web site or mobile app that facilitates
communication between patients, physicians and clinics. This communication
can include appointment requests, sending a message directly to the clinic,
and access to medical results and lab tests.
Karley Potter, a systems analyst at St. Luke’s, said that the patient
portal can help people harness and utilize information more effectively.
“Our patient portal takes a huge amount of information and organizes
it for you. From allowing you to view upcoming appointments and visit
summaries to giving you a direct communication line to your clinic, the
portal helps put patients in control of their data,” said Potter.
The portal is also a link to top-level information in a patient’s
electronic medical record (EMR). Potter added that the patient portal
is free and registration is simple.
One of the features patients really like, said Potter, is the ability to
follow up with their care provider on questions regarding their treatment.
“Most people, in a health care setting, are anxious, maybe a little
scared, certainly vulnerable. And in that context, it can be difficult
to remember everything the doctor said. The patient portal allows you
to ask questions and receive the answers you need, when you need them.”
The future of care
As American health care continues to evolve, patients will play an increasing
role in how that care is delivered. “Patients are becoming more
vocal about their care expectations,” said Dr. Nelson. “It’s
our job as care providers to give them the tools and information they
need to make informed decisions. And that’s exactly what we are
here to do.”
BELOW: Dr. Rachel Nelson, St. Luke's family medicine physician