Helpful Hints: Getting the Best Care

The Good Patient 10/31/2015

More than twenty years ago I worked as a clerk at a retail job. Like most people who work in a service industry my co-workers and I sometimes complained about the "difficult customers" we encountered. While we had to treat everyone with courtesy frankly it was easier to do our job well for the customers who were kind and respectful when they interacted with us. There is no doubt that even though we put on a brave face and did our best for the customers who were rude and demanding to us they did not get the best service from us. It is simple; good customers get the best treatment. Since healthcare is also a service industry and the technicians, nurses and doctors who provide service are also human beings you will find you get the best care when you are a good patient.

Medical Waste 9/30/2015

When my husband was starting hospice care at home I met with the care coordinator from the hospice organization. This person asked me to confirm the current medications my husband was taking and quickly said something about making sure he had a full supply of everything at home. I told the person that he had plenty of medications and I could easily pick up refills at the local pharmacy which was two blocks from our home. The caseworker reassured me that the hospice organization would take care of it. I didn't ask for further information. The next day a sixty day supply of every medication my husband was taking arrived by express delivery. I was confused and annoyed. About a week later I was disgusted and horrified because my husband had passed away and I had hundreds of pills that had to go into a landfill. It was a terrible waste.

Trust Your Gut 8/31/2015

Recently a client of mine* received a diagnosis of breast cancer. This was, of course, upsetting news but compared to many other people who receive that news her prognosis is very good. The cancer was caught at a very early stage and she was able to start treatment quickly. Her odds of survival are extremely high and the type of treatment she is receiving is much shorter and easier than it would have been if it had been diagnosed at a later stage. While cancer is never good news, in her case it is manageable and that is primarily due to the early detection.

Now What? 6/30/2015

I have a very distinct memory from when I was 10 years old. When I came home from school one day my mother told me some news, our family friend's son Wade had been diagnosed with brain cancer. My reaction was nonchalant which was typical for a young child, I didn't understand the gravity of the situation. My mother said to me "Hope, their lives have changed forever. Their life will always be marked by how it was before Wade had cancer and how it is now that Wade has cancer." It was one of the first times in my young life that I became aware of some of the difficulties of life.  Twenty-eight years later when a doctor told me that my husband had gastric cancer I fully understood the reality of my mother's words.  From the moment that I heard the word cancer, life changed forever.

Managing Your Records and Your Healthcare 9/30/2014

The first time that I took my husband to the hospital I was taught an important lesson on one of the best ways patients can advocate for themselves. Earlier that day he had visited his primary care physician and had blood tests done. That evening his doctor called and urged him to go to the hospital because the results of that test showed his red blood cell count was very low. Before we left for the hospital I grabbed a file folder with his complete medical records. He happened to have all his records at home because we had just moved to California from Colorado and before moving he had requested a copy of everything from all his physicians there.

Time May Not Be On Your Side 12/21/2013

It is my personal opinion that one of the most destructive things in our lives is the human tendency to procrastinate. We are all guilty of it. We all know that it doesn't help to put things off and yet nearly everyone does this regularly. When we do this in our career or in a social situation it can create unpleasant consequences. However when we procrastinate on medical issues it can sometimes be deadly.

Expectations 11/30/2013

For me, one of the more surprising aspects of dealing with major illness is coping with the expectations other people in your life may have about the medical condition.  People usually have a certain set of expectations about how they think someone will look and behave while they are dealing with a particular medical condition.   When they learn someone has cancer they may expect the patient to be bald, weak and thin. They may expect a patient recovering from surgery to bedridden.  They may expect   someone with lupus or Crohn's disease or other chronic illness to "look sick" in a particular way. If patients appear to be normal looking they may actually be surprised and even upset by it. Conversely, people are sometimes shocked when they see the patient look different than normal. Sometimes people react with looks of horror or dismay when they first notice the patient has a drastic weight change or other noticeable physical change. The unfulfilled expectation and resulting comments or reactions is a common issue that patients and caretakers must manage.

This Wasn't Part of the Plan 9/30/2013

Recently a friend contacted me for advice related to finding in-home medical care for her aging parents. I was able to connect her with some resources for professionals who specialize in providing clinical care for the elderly. My friend was understandably upset when she realized that her parents could no longer care for themselves on their own. Part of her frustration was due to the fact that the changes were sudden and drastic and, specifically, she was not expecting a sharp decline in her mother's condition. Everyone expected that her father, who is much older, would have a decline in health first. This was a reasonable expectation based on statistics and probability and yet it isn't what happened in this particular case. So what do you do when health issues don't go as planned?

Sharing Is Best 8/31/2013

Recently I was sitting in the waiting room of a clinic while a client was meeting with her doctor. There were two couples in the waiting room with me and they started up a conversation with each other. After the usual comments about the weather the conversation shifted into discussion of their conditions and how they were being treated. One patient shared about her experience with a particular treatment option and suggested the other patient ask her doctor about it. They exchanged a lot of information and then suddenly both pairs were whisked off to their respective appointments. While I have no idea if the information they exchanged would be helpful, I was struck by the importance of this meeting. When one is dealing with a major illness it is important to connect with others in your similar situation. The problem is we often don't have time to connect with our close friends and family members, let alone meet new people. Yet one of the most important resources you can find for valuable insights is with people who have the same medical condition.

Second Opinions 8/1/2012

My husband was treated by two different oncologists during the course of his illness. Both of these physicians have years of experience and are highly respected in the field. We had absolute faith in both of them. When we found out that my husband's cancer had reached stage four, we had some important decisions to make regarding the next steps for his treatment, so we met with both oncologists separately to get their recommendations. Those meetings surprised us, because each doctor had a drastically different recommendation for the next steps of treatment; as that treatment went on, the doctors often contradicted each other over what was advisable or even possible for his care.

Notebook 5/31/2013

Recently, I gave a lecture at a local non-profit about how one can be an advocate for a family member or friend who is dealing with a medical issue. It was a casual setting and one of the audience members raised her hand to ask a question just as I was beginning my talk. She said she might not be able to stay for the entire talk so she wanted to know at the start what was the single most important thing that she could do to be an effective healthcare advocate for her mother. I told her to buy a notebook and write everything down. She seemed a little flustered by the simplicity of my answer but I assured her that there was nothing more important that she could do than to be a good note taker.

Finding "The Best" Care 11/7/2012

When you receive a diagnosis of cancer or other major illness, one of the first decisions you'll need to make is where to have treatment. Usually your primary care physician or a hospital physician will refer you to a specialist within their network. Then you will have to decide if you want to be treated by that physician or seek out a different one. You may find yourself flooded with advice and suggestions from well-meaning friends, family members and colleagues, who will tell you about a certain doctor or treatment center that is "one of the best" out there.

What Should I Ask The Doctor? 4/6/2012

When my husband was starting hospice care at home I met with the care coordinator from the hospice organization. This person asked me to confirm the current medications my husband was taking and quickly said something about making sure he had a full supply of everything at home. I told the person that he had plenty of medications and I could easily pick up refills at the local pharmacy which was two blocks from our home. The caseworker reassured me that the hospice organization would take care of it. I didn't ask for further information. The next day a sixty day supply of every medication my husband was taking arrived by express delivery. I was confused and annoyed. About a week later I was disgusted and horrified because my husband had passed away and I had hundreds of pills that had to go into a landfill. It was a terrible waste.