Knowing how to be an advocate for your health within the complex healthcare system is just as important as knowing how to take care of your self day-to-day. The American healthcare system can be a complicated terrain to navigate when you’re driven by a dedication to holistic health — so how do you become your own advocate?
Adrienne Nolan-Smith is a board-certified patient advocate and the founder of WellBe, a media brand focused on bridging the large gap between the healthcare system and the wellness movement. With her firsthand experience with chronic health issues, Adrienne has learned just how difficult the medical journey can be. Below, she’s sharing a few tips to help us better advocate for wellness within the conventional American healthcare system…
Has it ever occurred to you how incredibly different the wellness movement (gorgeous smoothies, attractive yoga pants, natural wood, beautiful green plants) and the conventional American healthcare system (dirty hospital equipment, fluorescent lighting, cafeteria food worse than you had in college, sad pink gowns that feel like cardboard) are? And yet, in the end, they are both trying to achieve the same thing.
Theoretically, the industry missions are both to keep you healthy and alive, but there is a huge gap between the two. I believe only when wellness and healthcare come together will our runaway chronic disease rates and healthcare spending actually decrease. Why? Because at that point the healthcare system will be forced to think preventatively and holistically, becoming a true healthcare system — not a disease-care system.
Below are four ways you can fight for wellness and a natural approach to preventing and healing illness when you need to interact with the conventional American healthcare system.
One: Don’t Be Afraid To Speak Up
I’ve talked previously about healthcare and what it lacks, and currently, insurance companies (and the U.S. government, if you’re on Medicare or Medicaid) decide which doctors and treatments are covered. Because the system is set up around ‘disease codes’, it’s likely that many preventative measures that fall into the wellness category won’t be covered. And this is a major problem.
If you want acupuncture covered and the claim is denied, call your insurance company and write to one of their executives as well. Perhaps mention on social media and tag the company — you’d be surprised how much faster you get a response. You may be thinking, what is one complaint really going to do? But the more insurance companies hear what you want and what you are dissatisfied with, the greater the chance things will actually change.
Another idea is to tell your employer or HR person who decides which insurance company to use and plans to offer. Employers have more say with insurance companies than individual people because they decide for hundreds of employees which insurance company to use. It also lets your company know what you want when they think about choosing companies and plans for the following year.
Two: Choose An Insurance Plan Carefully
Choose a high deductible insurance plan with an FSA or HSA. High deductible means that you have to spend a “high” amount of money before insurance reimbursements (money you get back) kick in. These plans are usually free coming out of your paycheck if it’s through your employer, or if it’s on the exchange or health.gov it will be cheaper than a low deductible health plan. The system has a ton of red tape around the doctors and practitioners you can see, so this ensures you’re not wasting money on a health insurance plan that you’re not really using it (assuming you’re going to be choosing the right integrative/functional doctor for you, not based on who’s in-network).
High deductible plans usually come with an HSA or an FSA account, a health savings account or a flex spending account. This gives you the ability to put your own pre-tax money away for healthcare costs. These accounts tend to be more flexible when reimbursing for preventative and natural therapies. While this won’t change the overall system, it will show insurance companies that you prefer more health freedom and the availability of HSA and FSA plans will expand.
Three: Be The CEO Of Your Own HealthcareNot many of us treat interactions with doctors like we are the CEO, the boss or the executive director of our health and our bodies. And yet that’s exactly how we need to act. Culturally we were told to take our doctor’s word for everything, without doing our own research and without seeking multiple opinions. When you become empowered with your health and then you see a doctor, it’s really an interview to see if you like this person’s approach to healing (are they are open-minded, up-to-date on the latest research, etc.).
Act as a client and politely state that you’re interested in hearing what he or she thinks should be done and what their approach would be. Then let them know you are still deciding on a doctor to partner with and are considering a few options. You’ll be able to take your power back and let the doctor know that dismissing you in five minutes or downplaying your symptoms or outside research isn’t going to work. You’ll also be able to sniff out who is really here to help you heal, and who isn’t willing to be your partner in your health journey.
Four: Consider Using A Patient Advocate
The role of a patient advocate is only a few years old and I find it sad that our system warrants the need for this role, but the truth is, it does. The confusing lingo, red tape and general feeling of poor customer service and bedside manner in the healthcare system created a need for someone familiar with the system (and knows billing, codes, procedures, patient rights, treatment options, etc.) and who isn’t afraid to speak up and advocate for patients.
Though I do not see many private clients, I sat for the board exam and am now licensed to represent patients with their doctors, helping to advocate for wellness and suggest different treatment options. Whether you hire a formal patient advocate or make sure someone you are close to who can speak-the-speak accompanies you to appointments, having someone who can go to bat for you (similar to a lawyer or an agent) can produce better results.
Have you had success navigating the healthcare system well with your holistic health values? Tell us about your experience in the comments!