The Healthcare Crisis – Be Part of the Solution

The doctor replaced the antibiotic given in the emergency room with two new antibiotics, forgetting to note discontinuation of the first antibiotic in his chart. The nurse was prepared to administer all three, but by asking questions, his wife prevented the error. In the midst of recovering from kidney failure, he would have required dialysis the rest of his life had he received all three antibiotics. Results – poor quality of life and major healthcare costs for him and his insurance company.Dr. Brown ordered the same blood tests done by Dr. White three weeks earlier. The patient showed Dr. Brown the test results-consequently: no repeat tests, treatment plan developed, and no follow up appointment.In each scenario, costs were cut from the system. If one tenth, or 9 million, of the 90 million patients with chronic conditions managed their care in a way that cut just $100 from their charges each year, $900 million dollars would be cut from system costs. That is consumer power.Everyone-employers, government, medical professionals, and insurance companies are working to cut costs from the healthcare system. Everyone, that is, except patients.In his October 13, 2006 ABC Opinion article Make Health Care Patient Driven, then Senator Bill Frist spoke of his vision for a patient-centered and consumer-driven healthcare system. During the 2008 elections, we hear a lot of talk about personal responsibility. It’s time for patient and advocates to do their part to help cut health care costs. The missing piece and heart of the matter is that this vision cannot be realized unless we, as patients, take charge and change our mindset about the medical system, our care, and our roles and responsibilities. We need to improve the way we manage every aspect of our care and become better stewards and consumers of our healthcare resources. We must realize we do have the ability to improve the quality of our care, prevent medical errors, and cut costs.

Mindset Change: Insured Americans have been poor stewards of healthcare resources due to low out-of-pocket expenses. We let the money flow without worrying good money management. After all, the insurance company was paying. We lack knowledge. We have not been taught how to be patients, therefore feel helpless to help ourselves or improve our part of the medical system. We need to educate ourselves about our bodies and the various aspects of our conditions and stop handing control over to the medical professionals. Instead of victims of a dysfunctional system, we need to think of ourselves as part of the solution, becoming active knowledgeable participants rather than passive by-standers waiting for others to care for us and fix all of the problems. So, how do we do this?Better Management: Rather than approach our healthcare by going to appointments and taking things as they come, we need to have good methods to capture vital information and to manage every aspect of our care efficiently and effectively. Electronic and paper documentation systems, which are the first step in personal healthcare management, are available. Most of these systems, however, only capture basic information, but don’t teach us how to use it or empower us to take control of our care.New Roles & Responsibilities: Knowledge and know-how empower us to be leaders and coordinators of our healthcare team and partners with each team member. In these roles, we are able to better communicate vital information in complete and accurate stories. Our medical records are organized for fingertip access. We are readily able to locate important clues that reside in family history, prior illnesses, medications taken, tracked symptoms, and documented appointments with various doctors. We have information captured in a way that helps us help the doctors think and pull the pieces of our health story together.

Quality Care & Error Prevention: Studies show that actively involved and knowledgeable patients have better outcomes. They are part of the decision-making, therefore are more likely to follow treatment plans, use medication properly, and manage overall care better. They are also able to prevent many medical errors.Better Stewards-Save Money & Cut Costs: Three ways we can cut costs.1) Question what we say yes to. Know why a test or procedure is being ordered, other options available, costs involved, and how the results will benefit us and help in decision-making, before we agree to proceed.2) Stop the duplication of tests by getting copies of test results and tracking our care and asking questions. We don’t have to wait for computerized record systems to become available.3) Prevent one medical error and save thousands of dollars in direct and indirect costs.We, as patients and/or caregivers, can make a difference, help change the system, and cut costs.