Be a Health Advocate for You
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 the Internet.’”
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.”