Today’s healthcare system can be both frustrating and confusing. I know this through firsthand experience since wherever I go, as soon as people learn of my profession, they follow-up with a list (sometimes quite a long list!) of questions.
I resist providing too much specific advice – there is quite a bit of “it depends” wrapped within any answer I might offer. There are, however, common themes and recommendations which I like to share, the most important of which I detail below…
Act to Support Your Aging Parents
For us baby boomers, discussions regarding the support of our aging parents are quite common. We talk about their health; their living arrangements; their mobility; our involvement in their care; the fact that they are living longer but with multiple chronic conditions such as heart disease and diabetes; and the level of anxiety and concern we have in our own lives as we try to juggle these and other responsibilities.
- Have a conversation with your parents.Let them know what you observe and any concerns you may have. This is a way to educate yourself as to how well your parents are caring for themselves. Ask who they see for doctors, what medications they take and what they take them for. I know this sounds basic (in my family of over-sharers, it’s almost comical!), but in my cocktail conversations, I’m continuously astonished at how many adult children are completely unaware of this important information.
- Meet with your parents’ physicians.Now is the time – before there is a crisis – for you to meet and develop a relationship with your parents’ primary care physicians. This will allow you to more comfortably share your observations about your parents’ health status, including any subtle changes that, when brought forth, can guide a physician to evaluate a situation and treat, pro-actively. So go to an occasional appointment and be visible.
- Don’t wait. It’s much harder to get involved productively in the heat of a crisis. If your parents are resistant because they “don’t want to be a burden,” explain that not knowing and worrying is more burdensome!
Improve Physician Communications
I’ve said this to my readers many times, but it’s always worth repeating:
- Create a meeting agenda. A written agenda that you share at the beginning of each meeting allows you to take control. It ensures that the topics you care about are discussed and the questions you have are answered. If communication between you and your physician is not satisfactory, make that your first agenda item.
- Be flexible. Preparing an agenda requires you to do your homework – it forces you to think about what you want to accomplish and to gather the data you think is important. But remember that your physician might have an agenda as well, such as a discussion of preventative care. Be open to negotiation and a productive back and forth of ideas.
- Enroll in Patient Portals. These wonderful, twenty-first century web sites allow you to review test results, manage appointments and communicate with your physician and his/her team by email. At your convenience, 24/7.
Get a Handle on Medicare and Health Insurance Plans
I still find it somewhat jarring to realize that my own contemporaries are now at the age where questions about Medicare enrollment and associated products are relevant! But clearly, the day has arrived.
Here as well, I politely decline to offer specific advice. The problem is that there are just too many important variables to make blanket statements about how best to proceed. These include:
- Do you plan to work beyond the age of 65?
- Are you able to avail yourself of employer-sponsored coverage if you work beyond the age of 65?
- Do you have access to any retiree medical plans from your current or any previous employers?
- What family members do you have to consider post age 65 such as a spouse or dependent children?
- What’s your permanent address and do you plan to spend significant times of the year away from there?
- What medical conditions do you actively manage and what specific medications and dosages do you take?
The answers to these six questions alone (and there are many more) can lead to wildly different recommendations. So plan to dig in, either by educating yourself or by contacting a professional (yes, that was a plug for our services!).
A running joke between my husband and me is how at the end of a social event, I can relay conversations that were of a most intimate nature with those I’ve chatted. His interactions at that same event, on the other hand, tend to be somewhat superficial. In addition to my generally inquisitive nature, my role as a private healthcare advisor contributes to people sharing. I love that. But when it comes time for advice, I’m careful. Not because I don’t want to share, but because I need to know the details.
One piece of advice regarding healthcare that I don’t mind sharing, however, is this. The only thing we can control for certain is ourselves. So take control, be proactive, and enjoy the greater satisfaction that follows!