November 18, 2015

Are Seniors to Blame?

A recent Globe and Mail article’s startling headline “Canada’s health-care system braces for hike in costs with influx of seniors” appears to point the finger at the aging boomer demographic, stating that because the senior demographic is growing exponentially in Canada, this will cost Canadian taxpayers and governments more in health care dollars.

It’s inevitable that as we age we require more medical care. And the more health care needed, the greater the expense. However this information begs to question – what exactly makes up the hike in costs? After doing a little research, it became clearer to me that the issue isn’t necessarily the demographic, but rather how government coffers are spent.

The infographic below (courtesy of CIHI - the full report can be found here) shows that the largest health expenditures are for Hospitals, Physicians and Drugs. And it’s no surprise that when seniors’ health begins to decline, this is typically where the costs end up.

Where are Canada's health care dollars going?

Picture this: a boomer has heart palpitations, goes to his family doctor (PHYSICIANS), is referred to a cardiologist (PHYSICIANS) who diagnoses him with heart disease and prescribes medications (DRUGS). As the months and years go by, the medications cease to assist and the patient is hospitalized after a triple-bypass surgery (HOSPITALS). Unfortunately this is an all-too common scenario.

But what would happen if the boomer were regularly seeing a personal trainer and nutritionist? Maybe the palpitations wouldn’t appear in the first place. Or if the patient had received an alternate opinion on the treatment prescribed by the cardiologist? Maybe the medication would have been sustainable.

What would happen if we invested more in alternative or preventative health care? Maybe seniors who don’t require acute care can go to a long-term care or rehab facility, instead of occupying very expensive hospital beds. Maybe instead of going through costly procedures, Canadians can get a second opinion and learn that there are more economical (yet equally successful) alternatives for treatment.

Maybe, just maybe, it’s not on whom we’re spending our health care dollars, but rather how we are spending them.

A recent Globe and Mail article’s startling headline “Canada’s health-care system braces for hike in costs with influx of seniors” appears to point the finger at the aging boomer demographic, stating that because the senior demographic is growing exponentially in Canada, this will cost Canadian taxpayers and governments more in health care dollars.

It’s inevitable that as we age we require more medical care. And the more health care needed, the greater the expense. However this information begs to question – what exactly makes up the hike in costs? After doing a little research, it became clearer to me that the issue isn’t necessarily the demographic, but rather how government coffers are spent.

The infographic below (courtesy of CIHI - the full report can be found here) shows that the largest health expenditures are for Hospitals, Physicians and Drugs. And it’s no surprise that when seniors’ health begins to decline, this is typically where the costs end up.

Where are Canada's health care dollars going?

Picture this: a boomer has heart palpitations, goes to his family doctor (PHYSICIANS), is referred to a cardiologist (PHYSICIANS) who diagnoses him with heart disease and prescribes medications (DRUGS). As the months and years go by, the medications cease to assist and the patient is hospitalized after a triple-bypass surgery (HOSPITALS). Unfortunately this is an all-too common scenario.

But what would happen if the boomer were regularly seeing a personal trainer and nutritionist? Maybe the palpitations wouldn’t appear in the first place. Or if the patient had received an alternate opinion on the treatment prescribed by the cardiologist? Maybe the medication would have been sustainable.

What would happen if we invested more in alternative or preventative health care? Maybe seniors who don’t require acute care can go to a long-term care or rehab facility, instead of occupying very expensive hospital beds. Maybe instead of going through costly procedures, Canadians can get a second opinion and learn that there are more economical (yet equally successful) alternatives for treatment.

Maybe, just maybe, it’s not on whom we’re spending our health care dollars, but rather how we are spending them.

September 03, 2014

How a Smartphone Selfie Could Save Your Life

A doctor gives you a diagnosis that you have a sneaking suspicion is off the mark. You feel unsettled, and then a light bulb goes off – why not use your smartphone to film your symptoms as they’re happening in real time?

Sure, this gives a whole new meaning to taking matters into your own hands, but it’s exactly this type of creative thinking that might have saved the life of one Canadian woman.

By now, you might have heard of Stacey Yepes, who had originally been misdiagnosed with stress after she experienced numbness in her face and had difficulty speaking. When her symptoms recurred a few days later, Yepes had the wherewithal to film herself with her smartphone. This video gone-viral, led doctors at a different hospital to conclude that Yepes had been in the throes of a mini-stroke, and they were able to treat her accordingly.

smartphone

While it’s a unique example, Yepes’ highly publicized case highlights the fact that we are often our own strongest health care advocates. It also underscores the important role that consumer technology can play in ensuring we get the right diagnosis and right treatment from health care professionals. In fact, in many ways, a smartphone selfie diagnosis seems like a natural extension of telemedicine.

These days, people are taking control of their health with digital tools, including health apps that allow us to do things like measure our heart rate, monitor our respiratory status (useful for asthma sufferers) and upload information from devices such as blood glucose monitors – this information can then be shared with our health care providers. There are also blood pressure monitors that can be connected to the Internet or video equipment, allowing for real-time interaction with health care professionals.

Home health monitoring is especially helpful for people with chronic diseases. Thanks to advances in consumer technology, we have easier access to medical care and advice than ever before.

But this doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t also exercise good judgment in how we use the plethora of technology available to us when it comes to managing our health. Social media comes to mind here – some people post pictures of physical ailments on Facebook, crowdsourcing a diagnosis from friends or even strangers. It’s not hard to imagine how such a misuse of technology and social media can end up having disastrous consequences.

Instead, we should take a page from Yepes’ experience, which perfectly illustrates how technology can enhance our ability to manage our own health. Her story is a reminder that the onus lies with us to be proactive, and if we suspect a diagnosis or treatment isn’t right, it might not be. The good news is that being proactive is becoming much easier with an ever-growing arsenal of tools available at our disposal, some of them even easily accessed from our back pocket.

A doctor gives you a diagnosis that you have a sneaking suspicion is off the mark. You feel unsettled, and then a light bulb goes off – why not use your smartphone to film your symptoms as they’re happening in real time?

Sure, this gives a whole new meaning to taking matters into your own hands, but it’s exactly this type of creative thinking that might have saved the life of one Canadian woman.

By now, you might have heard of Stacey Yepes, who had originally been misdiagnosed with stress after she experienced numbness in her face and had difficulty speaking. When her symptoms recurred a few days later, Yepes had the wherewithal to film herself with her smartphone. This video gone-viral, led doctors at a different hospital to conclude that Yepes had been in the throes of a mini-stroke, and they were able to treat her accordingly.

smartphone

While it’s a unique example, Yepes’ highly publicized case highlights the fact that we are often our own strongest health care advocates. It also underscores the important role that consumer technology can play in ensuring we get the right diagnosis and right treatment from health care professionals. In fact, in many ways, a smartphone selfie diagnosis seems like a natural extension of telemedicine.

These days, people are taking control of their health with digital tools, including health apps that allow us to do things like measure our heart rate, monitor our respiratory status (useful for asthma sufferers) and upload information from devices such as blood glucose monitors – this information can then be shared with our health care providers. There are also blood pressure monitors that can be connected to the Internet or video equipment, allowing for real-time interaction with health care professionals.

Home health monitoring is especially helpful for people with chronic diseases. Thanks to advances in consumer technology, we have easier access to medical care and advice than ever before.

But this doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t also exercise good judgment in how we use the plethora of technology available to us when it comes to managing our health. Social media comes to mind here – some people post pictures of physical ailments on Facebook, crowdsourcing a diagnosis from friends or even strangers. It’s not hard to imagine how such a misuse of technology and social media can end up having disastrous consequences.

Instead, we should take a page from Yepes’ experience, which perfectly illustrates how technology can enhance our ability to manage our own health. Her story is a reminder that the onus lies with us to be proactive, and if we suspect a diagnosis or treatment isn’t right, it might not be. The good news is that being proactive is becoming much easier with an ever-growing arsenal of tools available at our disposal, some of them even easily accessed from our back pocket.

February 05, 2014

Why Giving Every Patient Access to Lab Results is the Biggest Thing that Happened This Week

This week, the US Department of Health and Human Services issued a pretty significant directive that has not received the attention it really deserves. The new federal rule mandates that clinical laboratories must give patients access to their own lab-test results (without having to go through the physician who ordered the tests.) It is part of an ongoing push to make sure that patients are empowered with information.

For too long, patients have been left on the sidelines during many of the most critical parts of their care. They are often left wondering if the correct course of action is being taken, and if they can speak up to request more information. It ultimately forces individuals and families to leave the most important decisions concerning their lives in the hands of a system that is severely overburdened at best.  Now, by giving everyone access to their own test results, we are beginning to educate and empower patients to be their own best advocates. So much of the guessing game – and hoping that someone else is paying careful attention to my case – is replaced by the power that comes with knowledge.

bloodtest

In a health care universe where published studies are reporting that 15 to 28% of all medical cases are misdiagnosed, actively involved patients armed with vital information can be our best defense. This involves training patients to ask more questions, know their family medical history, seek an expert second opinion, and have pathologies retested. Best Doctors has been advocating this approach for years. Every member who initiates a case for an expert review receives a flash drive holding virtually every piece of vital medical information about that person in one easy to access place. It’s simple really: no one can advocate for your health as strongly as you and your loved ones can. But without the relevant information, that becomes almost impossible.

We only have one life and empowering patients to have more control may mean the difference between living that life and not. We each have the power to prevent a misdiagnosis or unnecessary suffering by asking questions, insisting on answers, and making sure that we and our loved ones get the right care. Getting the diagnosis and treatment plan right should be at the heart of every medical decision, and patients need to play a greater role in those decisions. Granting access to test results is a very first, but significant, step in the right direction.

This week, the US Department of Health and Human Services issued a pretty significant directive that has not received the attention it really deserves. The new federal rule mandates that clinical laboratories must give patients access to their own lab-test results (without having to go through the physician who ordered the tests.) It is part of an ongoing push to make sure that patients are empowered with information.

For too long, patients have been left on the sidelines during many of the most critical parts of their care. They are often left wondering if the correct course of action is being taken, and if they can speak up to request more information. It ultimately forces individuals and families to leave the most important decisions concerning their lives in the hands of a system that is severely overburdened at best.  Now, by giving everyone access to their own test results, we are beginning to educate and empower patients to be their own best advocates. So much of the guessing game – and hoping that someone else is paying careful attention to my case – is replaced by the power that comes with knowledge.

bloodtest

In a health care universe where published studies are reporting that 15 to 28% of all medical cases are misdiagnosed, actively involved patients armed with vital information can be our best defense. This involves training patients to ask more questions, know their family medical history, seek an expert second opinion, and have pathologies retested. Best Doctors has been advocating this approach for years. Every member who initiates a case for an expert review receives a flash drive holding virtually every piece of vital medical information about that person in one easy to access place. It’s simple really: no one can advocate for your health as strongly as you and your loved ones can. But without the relevant information, that becomes almost impossible.

We only have one life and empowering patients to have more control may mean the difference between living that life and not. We each have the power to prevent a misdiagnosis or unnecessary suffering by asking questions, insisting on answers, and making sure that we and our loved ones get the right care. Getting the diagnosis and treatment plan right should be at the heart of every medical decision, and patients need to play a greater role in those decisions. Granting access to test results is a very first, but significant, step in the right direction.

February 03, 2014

Top 5 Things You Didn’t Know about Your Doctor

Anybody who’s had an unpleasant doctor’s office visit at some point, this one’s for you.

The truth is, doctors are like so many other working professionals today—they have considerable pressure on them to increase output and juggle multiple responsibilities. Sometimes the result is a lackluster experience for the patient (you and me). But it’s by understanding this reality that we’re able to better partner with our doctors, become better advocates for ourselves, and become better consumers of healthcare.

So here are the top 5 things that you may not know about your doctor—

YOUR DOCTOR MAY ONLY HAVE 8 MINUTES FOR YOU

While your doctor wants to spend time with you, crazy schedules, crowds of patients and other system pressures make it difficult. Studies show that you only have about 8 minutes with your doctor. Make each one count.

Best_Marie_and_Sherry_0236YOUR DOCTOR WANTS TO BE YOUR HEALTHCARE PARTNER

Doctors don’t go to med school to ignore patients. In fact, your doctor wants to partner with you in your healthcare. But he or she doesn’t know if you want a partner. Tell your doctor you want to be involved in your care and to share in the decision-making process.

YOUR DOCTOR IS LIKELY TO INTERRUPT AFTER 10 SECONDS

Your doctor isn’t being rude. He or she is trying to help you as quickly as possible. Although studies show that doctors interrupt patients after about 10 seconds, you can get your doctor’s attention by telling a compelling story up front.

YOUR DOCTOR IS WAITING TO POP THE QUESTION

Your doctor is likely to ask a series of “yes” or “no” questions. It’s part of basic medical training. However, real answers often hide in the gray areas. Don’t hesitate to veer from the “yes-no” path and add your own open-ended responses.

YOUR DOCTOR WORKS IN A SYSTEM WHERE 34% OF DIAGNOSES MAY BE INACCURATE

On top of that, as many as 68% of treatment plans require a correction. Do everything you can to make sure your diagnosis is the right one, including having a fresh set of eyes review your case, like a Best Doctors expert specialist. Many physicians expect patients to seek a second opinion and often welcome the collaboration.

Anybody who’s had an unpleasant doctor’s office visit at some point, this one’s for you.

The truth is, doctors are like so many other working professionals today—they have considerable pressure on them to increase output and juggle multiple responsibilities. Sometimes the result is a lackluster experience for the patient (you and me). But it’s by understanding this reality that we’re able to better partner with our doctors, become better advocates for ourselves, and become better consumers of healthcare.

So here are the top 5 things that you may not know about your doctor—

YOUR DOCTOR MAY ONLY HAVE 8 MINUTES FOR YOU

While your doctor wants to spend time with you, crazy schedules, crowds of patients and other system pressures make it difficult. Studies show that you only have about 8 minutes with your doctor. Make each one count.

Best_Marie_and_Sherry_0236YOUR DOCTOR WANTS TO BE YOUR HEALTHCARE PARTNER

Doctors don’t go to med school to ignore patients. In fact, your doctor wants to partner with you in your healthcare. But he or she doesn’t know if you want a partner. Tell your doctor you want to be involved in your care and to share in the decision-making process.

YOUR DOCTOR IS LIKELY TO INTERRUPT AFTER 10 SECONDS

Your doctor isn’t being rude. He or she is trying to help you as quickly as possible. Although studies show that doctors interrupt patients after about 10 seconds, you can get your doctor’s attention by telling a compelling story up front.

YOUR DOCTOR IS WAITING TO POP THE QUESTION

Your doctor is likely to ask a series of “yes” or “no” questions. It’s part of basic medical training. However, real answers often hide in the gray areas. Don’t hesitate to veer from the “yes-no” path and add your own open-ended responses.

YOUR DOCTOR WORKS IN A SYSTEM WHERE 34% OF DIAGNOSES MAY BE INACCURATE

On top of that, as many as 68% of treatment plans require a correction. Do everything you can to make sure your diagnosis is the right one, including having a fresh set of eyes review your case, like a Best Doctors expert specialist. Many physicians expect patients to seek a second opinion and often welcome the collaboration.