Healthcare Hurdles: Strategies for Navigating a Stressed Out System

The healthcare system is broken. Medical advancements and diagnostic technology continue to improve at a rapid pace, which is great news. However, getting access to tests, specialists, and procedures in a timely manner is harder than ever. If you have personally not experienced the extreme level of difficulty in maneuvering this process, consider yourself lucky. A desire to be proactive in our current healthcare system will test even the most patient person on this planet.

Straining a Stressed Out Healthcare Industry

We are living longer. And those of us who are focused on healthy aging are really excited about this overall rise in longevity. But once you need a timely service or diagnosis outside of your annual checkup, buckle up for a wild ride. There are over 121 million of us in the United States over the age of 50. We account for about 37% of the total population. This is stretching the limits of the healthcare system at a vital time for those wanting to proactively age well.

Once hitting the age of 45 or 50, we typically require a few more healthcare services due to recommended screenings, the onset of chronic conditions, and age-related illnesses. This rapidly increasing demand puts pressure on healthcare facilities, resources, and providers. 

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Workforce Challenges Are Elevated

Meeting our healthcare needs requires skilled healthcare professionals. Healthcare systems are facing a shortage of nurses, caregivers, geriatricians, and specialists. After recently being referred to a specialized neurology group, my husband was told the first available appointment for a new patient was 7 months out. This is just not acceptable, and can actually make us sicker. 

Coordination of care is increasingly important. Often our healthcare requires a holistic and coordinated approach. That might mean managing chronic conditions, medication oversight to avoid possible adverse drug interactions, preventive screenings, and addressing new physical or cognitive impairments. Lastly, getting integrated care is resource-intensive and challenging, as even specialists inside of the same practice do not always work together. 

Healthcare Costs are Rising

Medical advancements and technological innovations lead to improved diagnosis and improved treatment options. Additionally, they come with a hefty price tag. The costs to invest in research, development, testing, and regulatory compliance are passed on. Because of this, consumers bear the trickle-down expense from insurance companies, healthcare providers, and private healthcare programs.

Long-term care is too expensive. The demand for long-term care services that assist with daily care are very often unmanageable. Even purchasing insurance ahead of time is cost prohibitive for most. When my father was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s, my mom stressfully managed costs by bearing most of the care on her own (after working a full day) and hiring a professional to fill in the gaps. 

Overall, addressing these challenges requires a multifaceted approach. While we collectively push for more affordable, more accessible, and better integrated healthcare, let’s look at where we have agency to improve our personal healthcare path. 

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How Best to Navigate the Quagmire 

The squeaky wheel gets the grease. While we may need to eventually resort to this methodology, you can be more of a persistent, firm, and well-informed “wheel” by meeting the healthcare system halfway. 

Embrace technology where you can. Set up your patient portal as this does streamline communication with your doctors and specialists. Many doctors and nurses will answer questions much quicker if they can respond via email in their secure portals. Furthermore, relying on a returned phone call at the end of a day will only add to your wait time. 

Speak up if something does not work. If appointment times are too far out, or if you don’t feel as if you are being heard, it is time to get louder. After my husband accepted that first available neurology appointment 7 months out, I stepped in knowing that it is often easier to advocate for someone else. First, I called a specific specialist in the group and confidently (yet courteously) stated that the referring doctor wanted my husband seen ASAP. He was seen within a week. And I was sincerely thankful to the scheduling nurse and still view her as a lifesaver.

Next, get authorization as an advocate or give permissions to those that support you. This authorization is part of the normal process with your PCP. That being said, be sure to get these forms completed when initially seeing a specialist. It will radically reduce time if you happen to be an advocate for a loved one. 

Tip: Having your personal history on hand when seeing someone new can drastically cut down on patient intake time and can help you remember dates when under pressure at a new office.

Keep your own file. Having your personal history on hand when seeing someone new can drastically cut down on patient intake time and can help you remember dates when under pressure at a new office. Not all the details of the conversation you have with a doctor will make it into their notes. You will also come across as very prepared and “in tune” with your needs — making your personal advocacy much easier. For instance, the neurologist was pleasantly surprised when we arrived with MRI imaging on a disc for his immediate review.

This type of preparation or advocacy might feel challenging or burdensome at the beginning. However, it will save you time and (some) frustration along the way. 

It Is Quite Literally Your Life and Your Health

We often discuss agency, yet this is an area where, unfortunately, we don’t always have as much as we need. That can feel stressful and scary. I’m betting most of you have already felt this way for yourself or for a loved one. Truthfully, it quite frankly sucks at times — even for the most positive and optimistic.

Being persistent, prepared, firm, and well-informed can help as you navigate the rollercoaster of emotions that come with navigating the healthcare process. Finally, if any of you have additional tips or methods for best navigating this process, please share them below. You never know how your story might help someone else! 

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