I suggest three resolutions to help you get better results from health care in 2012.
- I will figure out what problem I'm trying to solve before I see the doctor.
At first glance, this resolution may sound obvious; almost nobody goes to the doctor just because they don't have anything else to do that day. There's almost always some reason for the visit. Often, people go to the doctor because a new symptom has appeared and they want it to go away. What is there to figure out?
Consider Annette's case. Annette found that she was coughing a lot. She had asthma, and perhaps the coughing was a result of that condition. She was also taking a medicine for osteoporosis, and coughing was listed as a potential side effect of the drug. It was a bad year for allergies, and maybe that's why she was coughing. She kept going to the doctor, but none of the treatments helped much.
Finally, she sat down and thought about why she was so bothered by the coughing. Annette is a politician in a mid-sized city, and she was having trouble conducting press conferences, holding public meetings and appearing in radio and television interviews because of her coughing. Said another way, coughing interfered with her ability to talk in public forums.
She went to see her doctor and explained that her coughing was impairing her ability to do her job. They discussed this problem, and he proposed sending her to a specialist to see if there were some identifiable problem with her vocal cords. That specialist sent her to a speech therapist, who taught Annette how to talk in a way that put less strain on her throat so that she could speak for more than a few minutes without starting to cough. And the problem was solved.
Before she figured out and told her doctor that the biggest issue for her was that coughing made public speaking impossible, she spent months taking treatments that didn't help. It was only when she got clear about what problem she was trying to solve that she got an effective treatment plan.
If you describe clearly to your doctor exactly how a problem interferes with your ability to lead the life you want, you may find that you get better results.
- I will ask questions about proposed tests and treatments so that I understand their benefits and risks.
Before you make a major purchase - a car, for example - you might consult Consumer Reports or other reputable sources of information. You might want to know the gas mileage, cargo capacity, safety rating, repair history, insurance costs and/or handling of several cars that you are considering so that you can compare them. Even if you've chosen the make and model, you may want to compare trim options.
If you're planning to fly across the country, you might consult several websites that will tell you your options for time of departure, seating, and costs.
It can be equally important to gather information about major tests and treatments that your doctor recommends so you understand the pros and cons before you agree to something that might be expensive, time-consuming, risky, and hard to undo if you decide later that you don't like it.
- I will decide what care to get based on my priorities and values.
Be wary if you are told that a particular test or treatment is right for you -- but your doctors can't explain how they arrived at that conclusion and what led them to eliminate other reasonable alternatives.
It's important to gather information, but recognize that it won't buy you absolute certainty. If you read reviews online, you might find that an excellent product garnered 97 four- or five-star ratings and just three one-, two-, or three-star reviews out of 100 - but that's still not a guarantee that you yourself will be delighted with the product. Still, the odds are greater that you'll be happier with the purchase than if you bought something with 75 one-, two-, or three-star ratings and just 25 four- or five-star ratings.
After you've collected a reasonable amount of information, it's up to you to decide what you want to buy -- whether it's a computer or knee surgery. And how do you decide on medical care? Test each option against your priorities and values. How does each choice stack up when you consider what matters to you? Cost, convenience, expected success rate, dangers, pain and so forth may vary from one alternative to the next. You're typically in the best position to know which of these matter a lot to you and which don't matter very much, so you're typically in the best position to say which choice appears to be the best fit with your life.
Does that mean that your decisions will be perfect and that things will always turn out as you hope they will? No, it doesn't. But it does mean that you'll know that you made the best choice you could with the information available at the time.
I wish you a new year in which you lead the life you want.