Given the Chance, What Would You Change About Our Healthcare System?

If you could change our healthcare system in the US, what would be the first thing you would do? That was the question posed to an audience of patients, caregivers, and their close friends recently at a forum in Washington, DC on the anniversary of the enactment of the Affordable Care Act.

Hands raised immediately.

“Lower drug costs.” “Let me keep my doctor.” “Stop with the paperwork.” “Stop asking me the same questions over and over.” “Enact universal coverage.”

Heading into a Presidential election year, the topic of healthcare will again be debated. The systematic changes are long and hard, necessary, but complicated. On a daily basis there are small ways each of us can improve our healthcare “system” making it less likely we run into a hurdle financially or are surprised when the bill arrives.

Get to know your health plan — Americans know more about what’s covered in their auto insurance plan than their health insurance. Terms such as deductible, premium, co-pay, co-insurance, etc. are used interchangeably and, just like on an airplane, the person sitting next to you paid something different than you did for the same service. As tedious as it is, spend time familiarizing yourself with your benefit plan as an individual, or on a family plan.

Keep a copy of your own records — as we age, more practitioners come on the scene, physicians retired, groups consolidate, and records get lost. One university medical school I go to twice a year has me being twenty years younger than I am, a male, and taking three versions of the same medical at different dosages. Be diligent. Scrutinize your own records and make changes.

Become an expert on your own health — patient information and peer-to-peer chat rooms are available on virtually every health condition possible. Patient advocacy organizations are excellent resources for information on clinical trials, upcoming treatment options, and where to find a center of care. Managing your healthcare is no longer waiting to be told what to do by your doctor. It’s a shared responsibility that will benefit from your active engagement.

The debates on healthcare at a national level will continue. In the meantime, small steps to minimize the confusion in your own care will, collectively, improve the system for us all.

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