Be the Leader of Your Own Healthcare

As I continue to listen to the debate about healthcare reform, the more I’m convinced that these changes will require each one of us to take a much more active role in our healthcare. In my work, one of the first things I do with clients is teach them how to confidently assume a leadership role when dealing with doctors, insurers, hospitals and anyone else involved in their care.

All too often I meet people during a healthcare crisis who feel completely powerless. And I’m not speaking only of the elderly. I have seen this happen to clients of every age: The mother whose 4-year-old son has numerous developmental issues, the 19-year-old newly diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, the woman in her 50s with a progressive neurological disease, the 70-year-old man with multiple cancers. Regardless of your age or your condition, as a consumer, you are in the driver’s seat.

When working with clients, I often share the leadership framework I have adopted that guides not only my daily work, but also my personal life. This philosophy applies to any and all aspects of business, but it’s particularly useful in healthcare. Backed by 25 years of original research and data from over three million leaders, The Leadership Challenge® is a leadership development program by bestselling authors Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner. Approaching leadership as a measurable, learnable, and teachable set of behaviors, this model consists of what Kouzes and Posner call The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership®:

1. Model the Way
2. Inspire a Shared Vision
3. Challenge the Process
4. Enable Others to Act
5. Encourage the Heart

Can you see how each one of these practices applies to you being a leader of your own healthcare? In my next newsletter, I’ll expand on this idea and give you specific examples of how adopting this philosophy can help you be your own best advocate for quality healthcare.

Advance Directives: What You Need to Know

3b2341a0-5be3-4ca2-8dd4-178c399f2fa3In my last newsletter, I promised to bring you a quick overview of advance directives. This is not an issue that only the elderly need to be concerned with. In my work with clients of all ages, I always discuss this topic. If you’re a parent of small children, you need to have advance directives in place just as much as someone with adult children. According to the American Hospital Association (AHA), an advance directive “is your life on your terms. Whether you’re 18 or 80, documenting your wishes today means your family won’t have to make heart-wrenching decisions later.”

The AHA, with the cooperation of other organizations, has compiled key resources to enhance educational efforts and raise awareness around this important issue. Their Web site is one of the most comprehensive I’ve found and contains a host of suggestions, work sheets, state-by-state laws and resources. I ask you now to consider who you want to make healthcare decisions for you when you can’t make them for yourself. Have you had this conversation with your parents? Have your adult children had this conversation with you? It’s important to put your wishes in writing and share them with your family.

This is a time of year when many families gather together. Perhaps there’s an opportunity for you to have this discussion with your parents or children. Here are some suggestions for how to start the conversation: Talk about a family member who has passed and ask if anyone knows whether he or she passed at home or in a hospital? Is there a movie you just saw or a book you’ve read that shed a light on these issues? Was the topic recently discussed within your religious faith? Maybe a recent news story would help start the conversation.

Having these directives in place allowed many of my clients to pass at home with dignity and grace surrounded by family and friends that both participated in the process and were able to say good-bye. Although this is what I wish for my family members, I can only know for sure what they want by starting the conversation.