When you are ill or injured, navigating the health care system can be difficult and mind-boggling.
As you might know from previous blog posts, my Dad was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer last year. Before that, he had a number of other surgeries after a run of ‘bad luck’ when it came to his health. Between my mum, my son and I – we’ve also had a ruptured achilles tendon and two broken toes – all from separate incidents. Then we’ve had family health care system run-ins with infections and gym-related injuries. This is just my immediate family – not to mention many other hospital and health system visits for other family members and friends. All of this (and more) plus the birth of my son, adds up to someone who has spent a lot of time in hospitals over the past two years. And this is from a family who is generally very healthy and fit!
With every single experience with a hospital or in the health care system, I have learnt the hard way that you must prioritise you, your health, your intuition, and your needs. You must be the active ‘driver’ (as much as possible) of your own health. You can’t take a passive role.
This doesn’t come naturally to most of us (including myself). We tend to automatically trust and follow the advice of health professionals and not give it another thought. This needs to stop. We need to take a more active role in our health and care.
Below I have shared ten health care hacks that my family and I have learnt from our experiences in the health system that I hope you might find helpful too.
Health Care Hacks #1. When meeting with a health professional, always take a notebook and write thorough notes. We have learnt the hard way that this is essential even when an appointment seems unimportant or memorable at the time. It is particularly important when you are stressed or overwhelmed. These notes will help you process information that you might otherwise forget after your appointment – and will come in handy if you find out later that an error or misdiagnosis occurred.
Health Care Hacks #2. When you are speaking to a health professional, always ask for their name and position title. Write this down in your notebook. We have often forgotten to do this and it has made things difficult down the track when having to follow up administrative problems or other errors.
Health Care Hacks #3. For suspected serious appointments, try to take at least one other person with you. Make sure you both take notes. When you try to process complicated and overwhelming information after the appointment, you will find that each individual picked up different but useful (and often vital) information.
Health Care Hacks #4. If a health professional tells you something that you don’t understand, ensure they don’t leave the room until you do understand. Ask questions. Lots of questions. Ensure there is a two way dialogue between the health professional and yourself. You will sometimes need to be uncomfortably assertive – as they are sometimes time-pressured and will rush through the conversation in order to move on to their next patient. If they haven’t answered your question, ask it again, and again, until they do and until you understand your situation and options.
Health Care Hacks #5. Don’t automatically assume that every diagnosis or treatment plan or routine check or instruction is correct. Do your own research. Double check, and request additional scans or checks to be on the safe side, if your intuition calls for it.
Health Care Hacks #6. Let go of any anxiety around being perceived as pain in the bum or a worrywart. I’m not telling you to be rude, as this goes against my nature – but in being an assertive and active driver of your health and health options you might sometimes be perceived this way. Don’t let it throw you off taking care of yourself and your concerns.
Health Care Hacks #7. Trust your intuition. If something doesn’t feel right, don’t tell yourself you’re being silly and let it go. Trust that whisper. Even if it’s proved to be wrong, it is often worth investigating further.
Health Care Hacks #8. Be mindful of the fact that many health systems and organisations are understaffed, overworked and full of administrative bureaucracy. For this reason, always be prepared for important paperwork to be lost or unprocessed, letters to not be received, appointments to not be made, and forms to be filled out incorrectly or illegibly. Be an active driver. Double check paperwork before leaving appointments (are all details filled out, is it legible for the person who needs to receive it). Ask for copies of all reports and paperwork. When an urgent appointment or deadline is required – where possible, take it into your own hands to ensure it happens, rather than passively wait for someone to contact you to confirm it has.
Health Care Hacks #9. Remember that in all professions there are people who are good at their jobs and people who are not so good at their jobs. If you see someone who you feel is not so crash hot, please consider requesting or looking for another that is more aligned to your needs – rather than throw in the towel and assume that their whole profession is shonky. It can be frustrating and heart aching to go through the experience again with someone new, but this may be required in order to progress toward improved health.
Health Care Hacks #10. Actively reflect on what you can learn or do differently after a health care (or scare) experience. Each and every time we have had an engagement with the health system, we have learnt how we can be better at taking an active role in our story and anticipate any future issues or problem. I think this has been an important step for avoiding similar difficulties in the future.
If you find yourself in a position where you or a loved one is admitted to hospital or experiencing some form of health difficulty, I hope these health care hacks will help in some way.
Please know that I’m not encouraging you to be aggressive or disrespectful to health professionals (of which of course many are excellent and very skilled). Instead, I am encouraging you to be active and not passive in your health journey – and to prioritise you and your health.
I’d love to know in the comments below whether you will consciously try any of these health care hacks – or if you have any of your own to add.
Let’s soar together,