One of the most satisfying aspects of providing medical care for more than 25 years has been helping my patients figure out what is wrong, how to address what’s wrong, and how to navigate the medical maze to get what they need. The satisfaction I’ve derived from solving healthcare puzzles while guiding people through an often complex decision-making process motivated my transition from clinical practitioner to fulltime healthcare advocate.
You are probably wondering what helping patients and their families through the medical maze looks like. The following story of some clients (names and some details changed to protect confidentiality) will help to paint the picture.
A while ago I saw two patients, young to middle-aged women, each of whom had had a back injury at work. I was struck by how all encompassing their symptoms were. Both experienced nearly constant pain of various degrees, limiting their ability to do previous activities in work and in leisure. Both had been treated with a variety of modalities—including physical therapy, chiropractic, and pain meds—with little relief. Both had been told they had reached maximal improvement despite their obvious disability. Although months to years passed before either received authorization for an MRI, the diagnostic procedure indicated that each woman had a bulging disc.
Most of us have experienced back pain at one time or another. In fact, an estimated 75 to 85% of Americans will have low back pain at some time in their lives. In fact, I was once among the walking wounded myself, living with chronic back and neck pain until it worsened enough that I sought medical care. I started to see a wonderful physical therapist who helped me become almost entirely pain free. So I know it is possible to find relief.
So, for these women to be told that they should live with their pain and disability for the rest of their lives is unacceptable. I didn’t believe they had reached maximal improvement and encouraged them not to give up. I advised them to start off by reading Robin McKenzie’s Treat Your Own Back and Treat Your Own Neck and suggested an evaluation by a physical therapist knowledgeable about Aston-Patterning, a form of physical therapy that combines ergonomics, fitness training, massage, and movement education.
The process of healthcare advocacy involves taking a health problem and finding a way around or through the medical maze to arrive at the most positive outcome possible. My job is to provide information and tools that empower clients to confidently select and take the next steps.
If you or a family member are facing a healthcare issue and you don’t know what to do or where to turn, call a healthcare advocate!
Dr. Sima Kahn muses on being a healthcare advocate, the troubles with our healthcare system, and how to advocate for ourselves.