When it comes to accessing health care services, questions come up. Where should I go to get services? Who do I choose for my primary care? What does my insurance cover? Does the doctor’s philosophy of care match my own? It has been described to me as a lonely road to walk when you don’t feel like you have a contact person or venue to have your questions answered. And without an advocate, you feel as though you must go it alone, and learn as you go.
In an ideal world, there would be a patient advocate, or a point person to whom you can address your questions and concerns as you begin the process of accessing health services. You could start there, and enter into your healthcare experience armed with confidence about your insurance coverage or financial responsibilities and also of what to expect of your first visit. The role of a patient advocate is certainly not something that can be expected, so in the absence of such a person, there are many things you can do to be your own advocate.
Do your research. As you are shopping around for a physician or services or a primary care provider or an integrated health care facility, talk to people about their experiences, visit websites, do online research to determine who might be the best fit. There are websites that give reviews of doctors (Angie’s List is one)—but be discerning, remember others’ opinions may be more indicative of their personal circumstances than the quality of the provider.
Know your insurance coverage. Know your benefits before you start the discussion with the health care facility where you would like to seek services. Have a working knowledge of what your insurance plan covers, and then ask questions knowing what you can expect. Make sure what they are telling you matches up with what you know to be true. Cross checking is a far safer route than relying on the health care facility to verify your benefits or expecting that they will only bill for services that are covered.
Fill out your forms. The doctor is only able to obtain a health history as complete as the patient is comfortable sharing. Take the anxiety provoking element out of the health history experience and work on telling your story at home, where you are relaxed and comfortable. Ask for the paperwork in advance so you can do it on your own time. Take time to document the details and bring thorough information into your appointment; don’t try to rely on being able to remember it all sitting in the waiting room! For all those smart phone users out there, there are many great apps that give you a place to document your diet, moods, energy level, and exercise routines—allowing you to keep a good record of information that your physician will likely be interested in—and it will all be available for quick reference right on your phone! If you prefer, paper and pen works well too; the important thing is to keep a record and think of questions that might come up and plan to have the answers ready.
Make a list of questions. Be concise and thoughtful with your questions. It can be overwhelming meeting a new physician and providing a full health history as a new patient with a new doctor—especially if you don’t feel well—and questions can easily be forgotten or overlooked. Have your list ready as a reminder to yourself, and as an efficient way to represent your priorities in the appointment.
You know yourself best. The exciting and conscientious relationship that can be fostered between practitioner and patient begins when you enter into that first appointment well equipped. Be ready and empowered to fully engage in the process of wellness. You are your own best advocate. If you do stumble upon a patient advocate or care coordinator, or patient representative, be sure to share with them what you’ve learned out there, navigating the health care system; it will better inform notions of good patient care. Let’s shape our health care systems together through personal advocacy!
Jaclyn Sawyer is the patient advocate at Sojourns Community Health Clinic. For more information, contact Sojourns at (802)722-4023, 4923 US Route 5, Westminster, VT 05158, www.sojourns.org, find us on facebook, and check out our blog www.reformer802.com/journey2wellness.