The Debates Over Healthcare Reform

I don’t know about you, but in the face of the work I do every day, I am finding the current debate about health care reform disquieting. The focus of the discussion seems to center on insurance coverage. While fundamental to accessing care, there seems to be too little dialogue about what actually happens when a person finds herself in a complicated medical situation or crisis. I have to wonder: How many of the people surveyed by the media have actually had to deal with a long-term, complex medical diagnosis?

Take my client Barbara and her father Bob for example. At 92-years-old, Bob was cycling in and out of hospitals and rehab centers for months because of complications related to his diabetes, congestive heart failure, bladder insufficiency, kidney failure and dementia. When I added up all the moving pieces of his healthcare puzzle, I stopped counting at the number 45. Barbara and I worked together with a primary group of 10 medical professionals, but there were also several others: a dentist, a private physical therapist, pharmacists, a podiatrist, visiting nurses, a renal specialist, urologist, retinal specialist, dermatologist, and endocrinologist, just to name a few.

Coordinating care in this kind of scenario is challenging, to say the least. You may think your healthcare coverage is adequate, but do you have the proper support systems in place should you or a family member suddenly find yourselves dealing with a complex medical diagnosis? Continue reading for some tips on how to plan ahead.

As busy professionals, we all know how tough it is to manage our careers and our home lives. Factor in young children or aging parents and we’ve got more than enough on our plates.

Did you know that more than 50 million people provide care for a chronically ill, disabled or aged family member or friend during any given year? (Source: National Family Caregivers Association). Thirty percent of family caregivers are aged 65 or over; another 15% are between the ages of 45 to 54. Wow, that’s me!

In the past 2 years, my mom had a major illness and three major surgeries, so I know firsthand-as a daughter, wife, stepmother, grandmother and business owner-how caregiving impacts individuals. Even when we think we have it all under control, a seemingly minor medical event can turn into a major crisis. That’s why it’s important to plan ahead.

Here’s something you can do between now and my next newsletter: Have “the talk” with your parents. That’s right, I want you to get involved in your parents’ care before there are any serious issues. Here are some practical steps you can take immediately:

  • Ask your parents about their medical issues and document them in a file that can be easily updated.
  • Make a list of their medications, noting the dosage, what they take it for, and the name of the doctor who prescribed it.
  • Look at all the bottles they have in their medicine cabinet and be sure everything is included. When I do this with my clients, I can’t tell you how much is revealed. Amazingly, clients are not always sure why they are taking a medication, they may not be taking it as prescribed, or they may not be taking it at all. Sometimes, they even realize they have medical issues they forgot to mention.
  • Try to develop a relationship with your parents’ primary care physicians by attending medical appointments with them. When you do, explain your intent to stay involved and informed especially as changes occur.
  • Take notes for your parents and make copies for both of you.
  • Be sure to leave written documentation in your parents’ records stating the physician has permission to speak to you. A brief letter signed by your parent should suffice or ask if the physician has a standard form. This small act will save you a lot of frustration in the long run as you maintain your involvement over time.

My client Barbara did all of this for her dad, and more. I do this with my parents. What about you?  Do you do this for yourself, for your spouse, and your children? Think about taking these steps for all the people you are caring for.

Next time, we’ll talk about some of the subtle changes you should be looking for in regards to your parents’ health. And let’s also talk about sharing your wishes for future medical treatment and interventions as a way to start the conversation with your parents. This will lead us into a discussion about advance directives.