Five Tips for Navigating the Medical Maze

There are things you can do to simply your and your loved one's journey through the medical system at a difficult and critical time.

One of the most maddening things about caring for a loved one is the medical maze. Not the elaborate labyrinth known as medical insurance, HMO’s or even PPO’s, but the obstacle course that is laid out before millions of patients and caregivers each day at a time when the last thing they need is one more hurdle.

It begins with communicating with doctors, moves on to how appointments are scheduled and then what happens when you finally see the doctor.

We request an appointment with our doctor because something isn’t right, we hope there is an opening that will fit with our increasingly busy lives, or failing that, will cause the least amount of disruption. We go from focusing on our health to focusing on how we can somehow fit our health concerns into our day.

My parent’s generation grew up idolizing doctors and those in medicine as royalty. Doctors granted you an audience and if you were lucky enough to see them, any diagnosis or advice was understood to be akin to carved on a stone tablet. A second opinion was something handed down from an appeals court. When the doctor prescribed a drug there wasn’t a discussion of drug interaction or side-effects.

Today we know that doctors are also human. While we are grateful for their specialized education and extensive training we also know that we bear a substantial responsibility for our own health via our choices in care as well as our lifestyle preferences.

Now consider this: When something’s wrong with your car, you take it a mechanic. You treat him or her with respect, when you bring the car in for a tune-up and are told you can’t have it back for three days. You ask “what the hell happened?” You don’t look at the wall for diplomas first. There is straightforward communication taking place because you hired him to fix my car, and there are expectations that go along with that process.

No so with the medical world. Doctors and medical staff have jobs just like your mechanic, only instead of going to a garage to fix cars, they go to a clinic or an office or a hospital and fix or help people.

Here are Five Tips to help you navigate the medical maze:

One: Don’t be intimidated when seeking treatment or asking questions. You and your insurance company are paying for it, so look for a level of service.

Two: Keep your ears and eyes open for how things work and who the key players are in any medical office or nurse’s station. Identify people who are getting things done and are approachable.

Three: Make Friends. Forge some relationship, even in some small way. Ask your doctor or nurses how their day is going. Remember that hospitals can be difficult places to work. The hours are long, patients don’t feel well and the pace and stress can often times be overwhelming. Inquiring about the health practitioner’s health, their family or simply showing that you care can make their day and help them remember you and your loved one.

If you find you have to push a bit to get information you are looking for, be respectful, polite and direct.

Four: You can’t do it alone. Bringing someone trusted along to appointments can make sense. Sometimes a different pair of ears or eyes can pick up something you missed.

Five: Write down questions in advance of the treatment or appointment. Organize a binder and separate it into subject area such as medications, treatments, doctors and specialties. Taking notes can distract you from catching everything said but it can also prompt important questions.  It will also give you a frame of reference and a record as treatments or drug regimes change, helping you to better understand progress being made and how changes are taking place.

Keeping these tips in mind will help you move through a complex system at a critical time. The results can provide you and the one you are caretaking with greater peace of mind.


J. Dietrich Stroeh of Novato is author of Three Months: A Caregiving Journey from Heartbreak to Healing (2012 FolkHeart Press). For more information, visit www.threemonthsbook.com.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Dave Robertson July 25, 2012 at 08:33 PM
Six: Do not listen to your Dr's advice unless you hear the same advice from 3 or more practitioners. Physicians are not taught to think like the rest of us - their education is based on memorization of facts and procedures. However, facts and procedures change, but most physicians don't account for this. The also tend to have you diagnosed long before they ever see you - or when they first walk in the door. This has been well documented too. Too much medical care can kill you sometimes. All of this "imperfection" in our physicians is a fact of life that we must accept - though they are the last ones who will ever do so. The moral of the story is "watch what you do - and be careful of who you listen to." This is not easy at times when there are pressing medical needs. It can mean a world of difference in the outcome, however. Sometimes it helps to trust your instincts.
J. Dietrich Stroeh July 26, 2012 at 08:08 PM
You're right about pressing medical needs taking precedence. And knowing who to talk to and who to listen to does make a world of difference. I think it's a good idea to trust your instincts and to feel confident about the professionals you are working with.


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