Be the Leader of Your Own Healthcare

It may sound like an overstatement, but it’s true: The work of Kouzes and Posner and the Leadership Challenge has provided me with a framework that guides not only my work within Healthassist, but also the way I conduct my life.

Here are the five practices of exemplary leadership which they have developed:

  1. Model the way
  2. Inspire a shared vision
  3. Challenge the process
  4. Enable others to act
  5. Encourage the heart

This month, I focus on two of these practices — challenge the process and model the way — both of which come into play as you access care for yourself or a loved one.

Since the start of the pandemic, exerting leadership of our own healthcare has become even more important; the number of administrative obstacles seems to grow with each passing day! Challenging the process, politely and persistently, along with modeling behavior you expect in others, is required.

When Hospitalized

A piece of advice I have often shared in the past about inpatient hospitalizations is that you or your loved one should never be left alone. During the COVID-19 pandemic, I had to change course and advise about the best ways to manage from afar.

Use the phone to talk first, before emailing or texting.

The relationships I encouraged between you and the care team that were best facilitated in person, now must be developed over the phone. Although I fully appreciate the use of Patient Portals for outpatient communication, these do not work as well inpatient.

So, you must rely on the phone first, working towards the use of Facetime/Zoom for meetings in which you can see each other. Granted, since more than half of communication occurs non-verbally, a traditional phone call is not ideal. But it’s a start. Here are some suggestions:

  • Upon admission, call to introduce yourself to the nursing staff and ask for the best time of day, during each shift, to call for an update.
  • Identify the physician in charge; appreciate that this may change according to an outlined schedule. Request a daily telephone meeting after patient rounds are finished, during which they will have reviewed the events of the previous day and developed a plan for the current day.
  • Upon initiation of the relationship, let them know that within your family, you have been designated as the single point of contact with the healthcare team, so that they only have to talk with one person. Assure them that as the leader of the family team, you will distribute information readily among the others.
  • Make it as easy as possible for the physician to contact you. Ask if it is best for you to call them or for them to call you, and at what time. Be sure to be available as promised; ask that they communicate if they will be delayed. Cell phones and texting can be very helpful in managing all of this.

When Accessing Care from a Physician in the Community

Here is where Patient Portals can be invaluable for proactive communication, so be sure that you are enrolled and familiar with the tool, and that you always check it in advance of appointments.

Here is what is happening on the portals:

  • Scheduling and confirmation of appointments
  • Online check-in, 24-48 hours before the appointment that may also coincide with a telephone check-in with the medical assistant working with your physician
  • Verification of medications, dosages and how often you take them
  • Gathering of data that is to be shared with the physician, such as sequential blood pressure readings or medical records from external healthcare systems
  • Verification of insurance information and payment of co-pays
  • Sharing of a written agenda (most important!) in advance of the visit, including visit objective(s), items for discussion, specific questions, action items and next steps, a summary

When Having Diagnostic Testing

Whether something simple, like routine bloodwork, or something complicated, such as an overnight sleep study or a colonoscopy, allprocedures have changed since COVID-19 arrived.

This requires that you be proactive and remain politely persistent, in order to successfully complete the procedure and obtain the results necessary for making decisions with your provider.

Calling in advance and asking for specific details about the administrative procedures in place to protect both you and the staff will go a long way towards getting diagnostic tests done as scheduled. If you do not abide by the protocols, procedures will be cancelled, contributing to delays in care.

In Summary

This has been quite a year! All of us, especially those that provide the quality healthcare we need, have felt the impact. At Healthassist, we have had to pivot in the way we deliver our services.

And yet, the core of our message has not changed: As healthcare consumers, we have a responsibility to be the leaders of our own healthcare; to develop good quality relationships with our healthcare providers; and to do all of this respectfully, with diligence, and by demonstrating how much we appreciate each other.