Who’s In Charge? You or Your Doctor?

babyshowerSunday was the first baby shower I’d been to since. . . well, let’s just say that my youngest kid turned 19 a few days ago. There were the mandatory sherbet-colored decorations; a watermelon fruit bowl designed to look like a sleeping infant (complete with pacifier); infused water; chattering ladies; a table piled high with gifts. Only one thing was missing: the guest of honor. For even as everyone arrived for the shower, she was already in labor. And, ever the obliging young woman, she delivered a healthy baby boy before the shower ended.

I’m assuming she had great care in the hospital. Most women who have babies do. But far from the cozy, wood-floored, prettily painted maternity suites lies the healthcare system the rest of us have to deal with. Like another young woman at the shower, 26-year-old Mary.

I happened to overhear her talking to someone else and caught the words “migraine,” and “doctor,” and “frustrated.” Manna to my ears. “What’s up?” I asked.

Turns out she’d been having horrific, daily migraines and vertigo for months. The urgent care doctor told her … Continue Reading

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Doctors Are Angry. I Get That. But . . .

surgeonI knew this would be the toughest audience yet in my three years of teaching/speaking about the US healthcare system and healthcare reform. I even put on a flak jacket at the beginning of my talk as a way of breaking the ice (and protecting myself; I mean, these guys pack scalpels!). And I made it through the two-hour talk and their anger without losing my composure or my sense of humor (thank god for that sense of humor).

Now I’m sitting in the airport waiting for my flight home and find myself tearing up. Not because the doctors were mean or cruel — they weren’t — but because of how much distance there is between  reality and perception, how much anger is out there, how too many people rely only on anecdotes and commentary instead of facts to develop opinions, and how scary it is to look at where we are and where we need to be — and realize that, more and more, it is unlikely we will ever get there given the rhetoric and anger in this country.

The doctors this morning, most of whom have been in practice … Continue Reading

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Should You Listen to Your Doctor?

moneyWhen I speak about the US healthcare system, I always like to tell the story of my mother. A couple of years ago, she emailed my sisters and I. “Good news!” she wrote. “My nuclear stress test was normal!” (The test  involves injecting a radioactive dye into a vein after which a special camera scans the heart to determine if there are any blockages).

At the time, my mother was 70 and, with the exception of very-well-controlled high blood pressure (that she’d had all her life), extremely healthy. No sign of heart disease. No angina. No shortness of breath. In short, no indications for an expensive, invasive, potentially dangerous, test. So why, I asked her, did she have the test? “Because my doctor told me it was time,” she said.

At which point I began banging my head against the wall.

Even regular stress tests (where you run on a treadmill or ride a bike) are only recommended in people with heart disease or symptoms of heart disease, same with an EKG. Yet a survey of nearly 1200 people ages 40 to 60 with neither found that 39 percent had an EKG … Continue Reading

healthcare costs healthcare reform healthcare system; patient-centered care patient-centered healthcare Unnecessary tests waste

Time to Get Our Patientzilla On!

I just finished talking to a woman about her experience traversing our paternalistic medical system. She’d been having very strange symptoms for months — dizziness, numbness and tingling in her head and hands, blurred vision. After a particularly scary episode, she went to the emergency room where the ER doctor, in her words, basically dismissed her by telling her she had none of the risk factors for a stroke — she was only 40, in good health, a nonsmoker. “It’s probably anxiety,” he told her. “Of course I’m anxious!” she said. “I have two little girls in the waiting room scared to death because they’ve never seen their mother like this and I’m scared because I don’t know what’s going on!”

Nonetheless, she left without any idea of what was going on, convinced it was all in her head. Another visit a week later to another emergency room, where this time the doctors performed a battery of tests, including a CT scan, MRI, blood work, etc. Again, nothing.

A few weeks later, with the symptoms now so bad she had to hold a coffee cup in two hands, she saw a neurologist. Again, a battery of tests. Again nothing. By … Continue Reading

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What I Learned About the Healthcare System From My Aunt’s Shoulder Surgery

I’m here in the cold northeast helping my 80something aunt out for a couple of days as she recovers from shoulder replacement surgery. It’s been a great real-life example of the good and the bad in our  healthcare system.

The good part is that the surgery went well and the hospital arranged for post-discharge physical and occupational therapy, as well as a home health nurse to check on my aunt, all of whom are great.

But the main problems come with the coordination of care for my aunt, as well as the communication. Our changing healthcare system relies on greater patient empowerment and patient-centered care. That, in turn, relies on educating patients about their condition. That so did not happen here. Here’s where I think the failures occurred:

— My aunt’s doctors did not set realistic expectations. She talked to several people who’d had the surgery before who told her what a breeze it would be. So when she experienced swelling, bruising, nausea, pain, etc., she thought something was terribly wrong and she panicked. Her doctors — and the nurses — should have prepared her for what such a major surgery would involve, particularly for someone her age.

— Her … Continue Reading

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Would You Buy a Car the Way You Buy Medical Care?

I was at book club the other night, pouring another glass of Chardonnay, when my friend told me that in August she was diagnosed with three blocked arteries, one of which is 100 percent blocked. I could rant about the fact that she’s been walking around like this for three months with only a beta blocker and statin as treatment, but that’s fodder for another blog.

When I talked to her she had an appointment with a cardiologist in our area. “Oh, he’s wonderful,” she said. because that’s what she’d heard from other people. What she didn’t realize, however, is that “wonderful” doesn’t mean good. She didn’t know how often he performed the procedure she might need; how well his patients did with or without surgery; what ties he might have to the pharmaceutical or medical device industry that could bias his recommendations; if he’d had any malpractice suits against him and how they’d turned out.

Choosing a doctor based only on what your friends tell you is like buying a car based on its color, something few of us would do. Instead, we research cars to find out which gets the best gas mileage, its safety record, its cost. … Continue Reading

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Healthcare Reform 2.0: Five things you need to know to grow your business in 2013

How much do you know about healthcare reform — and I don’t mean just the Affordable Care Act (aka “Obamacare”). I mean the coming tsunami of change that has the potential to completely revamp one of the most dysfunction systems in our country (as you know from reading my blog).

Do you know. . .

Why we need healthcare reform? What healthcare reform means for your employees and employer? How healthcare reform will change your interactions with the healthcare system? How healthcare reform may make it safer for you to get sick? Why healthcare reform will save you money?

If you can’t tell me the answers to these questions, then you need to block off 1-2 p.m. (eastern) February 5 for my webinar: Healthcare Reform 2.0: Five things you need to know to grow your business in 2013. You can also view it on demand.

And, as a “thank you” for reading this blog, I’ll give you half off the registration fee. Just use code GS12713 when you register.


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Preparing for a (Gulp!) Colonoscopy: What It Says About Our Healthcare System

As of November 30, I am now, as my gastroenterologist puts it, 39 + 11 years old. You know what that means! So, a couple of weeks ago I called his office to make an appointment.

I would have preferred to simply make the appointment online or even e-mailed the office, but since the practice didn’t offer this, I fought my phonaphobia and punched in the numbers. Of course, I went through five prompts before getting a live person and was put on hold for a few minutes. About 10 minutes later, I finally had my appointment.

I was told to arrive at 2:30 p.m., which I dutifully did. Then the receptionist gave me a stack of paperwork to complete. And a pen. Among the information I had to provide:

• My husband’s Social Security number, since our insurance comes courtesy of his job. Not sure why this was needed, since the receptionist made a copy of my insurance card, which has all pertinent information on it. Not to mention that in this day and age of identity theft, I don’t like giving out Social Security numbers to anyone. But the last time I refused to provide a Social Security number … Continue Reading

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Patient-Centered Healthcare–NOT!

Just back from Seattle where I gave a presentation to the Northwest American Medical Writer’s Association chapter on branding and customer service. Talk about relevant! Because boy, do I have a healthcare-related customer service story to tell here.

Remember the tooth saga? About a month ago I requested that all test results from the ER and hospitalization related to that fun time be put into my electronic medical record. Why I had to request them I have no idea; they are, after all, my results, right?

In reviewing them, I noticed that three fasting blood sugars–one in the ER and two in the hospital–were very high. I’m talking diabetes high. I figured it was likely due to the infection, but I followed up with my doctor, who brought me in for a visit. He agreed they were high and ordered blood work. Then, when I reminded him that my father had died  young from pancreatic cancer, suggesting a family history, and that new-onset diabetes in someone with no risk factors could be an early sign of pancreatic cancer, and that I’d recently and unintentionally lost 25 pounds (yay!), he ordered an abdominal ultrasound.

Blood sugar came back fine. I had … Continue Reading

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