Health and wellness used to be a phrase that was lost on me for a long time. After all, my entire experience in the healthcare system here in the U.S has been centered around my weight. From a very young age, my doctors over the years focused so much on my weight that they took very little interest in anything else I might have
possibly definitely had going. So for a long while, I viewed health and wellness as part of diet culture and didn’t have vested interest in it.
In my early 30s, I learned I had thyroid disease, osteoarthritis, and even now some sort of autoimmune inflammatory disorder that Rheumatology is now trying to investigate and diagnose. Getting some of these diagnoses made me feel like it was too little too late because in my case, they were all severe by the time I was diagnosed. However, I’ve been determined to fight for the quality of my life even if I have to die trying.
Healthcare is a Scam
I’m heavy with opinion here; so please know that I’ve arrived at this opinion based on my experience and the experiences of others. First and foremost, the U.S Healthcare system is a “hybrid” structure made up of “public and private, for-profit and nonprofit insurers and health care providers” as as the Commonwealth Fund site highlights. The U.S healthcare system is 1 out of 33 developed countries that does not provide universal healthcare. While there is some government involvement with healthcare like Medicare, Medicaid, Veterans Aid, and the Healthcare Market Place; their regulation does very little to protect those of lower income status or social and economic status.
For those who do pay for insurance whether through employment or the marketplace; we often find ourselves drowning in premiums that equal thousands of dollars, confusing language about deductibles, co-pays and co-insurance. Let’s not even venture into PPOs vs POS vs HMOs. In the midst of all that jargon, there’s still the work of finding a provider covered by said insurance and finding a good provider at that.
Often times, visiting a primary care physician feels pointless. You spend more time with the physician’s assistant, telling them all your worries, concerns and symptoms. Then the doctor waltzes in, spends 10 minutes with you; suggesting weight loss, a prescription to treat a symptom and not the problem. The might even run a basic blood panel that doesn’t truly explore your concerns. Then as they’re walking out the door to the next patient, their back is telling you to make sure you schedule a follow up appointment 6 months from now.
Despite this, there is still a way to get the most out of the healthcare system; it just requires the patient to do most of the work.
Patient advocacy nonprofit organizations do exist in many places in the U.S; resources for such organizations vary from state to state. Despite there being patient advocates out there; I have found that arming myself with knowledge allows me to advocate for myself. No professional can tell you more about how your body feels than you. So it’s important know how to get them to listen especially in situations when they’re more likely to dismiss you than hear you. Below I am going to share some tips on how to successfully advocate for yourself.
- Document Your Symptoms – keeping track of your symptoms at home including the time of day you experience it, what type of symptoms and where you feel symptoms is important. Also document if something environmental seems to trigger symptoms or make it worse (temperature, food, medications).
- Google your Symptoms – Most physicians are totally against this because they fear that patients will diagnose themselves with the worst and rare diseases. However, using discernment and common sense can help you narrow things down so that you can ask your doctor for specific diagnostic tests. I can’t even tell you how many times I helped myself skip unnecessary testing by telling my physician exactly what I wanted to be tested for. If it’s possible, obtain your family health history. If your parents or siblings have a diagnosis for something you’re concerned about; the doctor might be more likely to pay attention.
- Ask for What YOU Need – In many cases, some physicians may not feel like the test you’re requesting is necessary. However, if it’s something you feel strongly about; please insist. If they still refuse, tell them you want it documented in your medical chart that they are refusing to run the tests. This holds them legally responsible should anything go wrong as a result of not administering the test. In most cases, they will begrudgingly write the request for the test. Most doctors will look at basic metabolic blood panels (cholesterol, lipids, glucose, TSH (maybe), hemoglobin, urinalysis etc.) but beyond that they most likely won’t look for things such as vitamin deficiencies or inflammation markers. If your concern falls out of the scope of your physicians practice; ask for a referral to see a specialist that can care for your concerns.
- Find a New Doctor if You Need To – I say this with the disclaimer that this truly depends on personal circumstances. All insurance is not created equal; so accessibility to a variety of physicians may not be as common. If you have the privilege though, don’t be afraid to use it. Your doctor is not doing you a favor, you are literally paying them and your insurance for their services. If they are not sufficiently meeting your needs, fire them. Doctors will fire a patient with the quickness; especially if they deem a patient a problem. Flex that same right. Leave reviews on sites such as Health Grade so that other people can review doctors before signing on to be under their care.
- Become Well Versed in Insurance – This is probably the most tedious but most necessary of all the tips I can give. Your insurance company wants to take your money and do the bare minimum for you. They think that by offering incentives for weight loss wellness programs and gift cards for blood work they are doing enough. The reality is, insurance will deny claims left and right if they can. Get the best understanding of what kind of coverage your insurance provides. Learn about lab work coverage, pre-authorization for prescriptions they refuse to cover, learn about what procedures they do and don’t cover and if there is any work around. Insurance can be your biggest foe in a healthcare system that is for profit. Knowing as much as you can about the system will be in your best interest.
The Wrap Up
I think it goes without saying that having be your own patient advocate is unfair. In this day and age with so many advancements in medical technology, you would thing navigating the healthcare system in one of the richest countries would be easy. **Insert sarcasm here** At any rate, no one is going to care for your body, health and wellness more than you. Treat yourself with the respect and care you deserve. Next discussion on navigating health and wellness tips, we’ll chat all about fatphobia and medical bias. Get ready.
Until Next Time