When I turned 18, I was looking forward to moving away for college, being able to vote, and maybe purchasing a lottery ticket one day or getting a tattoo. What I didn’t know was I was walking into so much more. For all that I gained with becoming a legal adult. I lost some things too, specifically when it came to my healthcare. In fact, turning 18 changed my healthcare forever.
I visited my pediatrician for the last time over the summer in 2018. It was bittersweet and scary, realizing I would be moving on to another stage in my life. But as August approached and I started to pack and plan for college, the thought of a new doctor’s office left my mind.
In fact, it stayed out of my mind for over a year until this past winter break when I needed to visit a physician. Since I was at home, I went to an office my mom recommended.
My first visit with a doctor since turning 18
It was an awkward experience. Even with the pages and pages of paperwork, I filled out in the large but empty waiting room, the doctor still did not really know my medical history. I had not grown up with them as I had with my pediatrician.
The white walls and cold rooms were intimidating. As the doctor tried to explain possibilities for my issue that I had already considered, I almost let myself nod and agree.
Thankfully, I had already been an intern on the TakeCHARGE™ Campaign for a few months at that point so I had come prepared with a list of questions. I left the office with a sense of pride for standing my ground and using the tools I had learned as an intern. But most importantly, I left with clarity about my situation.
TakeCHARGE to the Rescue
The TakeCHARGE Campaign (5 Steps to Safer Health Care) has laid out five actions individuals can and should take to improve their chances of good healthcare outcomes. The campaign aims to teach and motivate the whole community to do one of these steps each month between April and August 2020. The expectation, however, is that people will continue to practice what they learned from the campaign long after.
Before joining the campaign, I had no idea that once I turned 18, my mom could no longer make medical decisions for me in an emergency that prevented me from doing that. Instead, I needed to designate a healthcare proxy to do so.
Since I had always had the same pediatrician, I did not have a medical history compiled. I had never prepared a physical list of questions before going to a doctor’s appointment.
But as a young person, preparing a list of questions is one of the best things to do for yourself. It is easy for people to not listen to us and to discount what we have to say.
Preparing a list of questions is a reminder that we have power in that situation. It is our healthcare and we have the ability to take charge of it.
My friends knew even less than I did about healthcare
Since joining the campaign, I’ve had conversations with my friends and peers about topics like medical history and advanced directives. The idea of advanced directives was totally new for almost everyone that I spoke with.
What college-age student is thinking about legal medical documents? Why wouldn’t our parents be able to speak on our behalf and make medical decisions? That’s how it had been for all of our lives.
On top of classes, studying, jobs and internships, clubs, and trying to have a social life, it can seem especially daunting to people my age to start working towards taking charge of their healthcare.
When I mentioned that our parents could not make medical decisions for us in case of an emergency, one of my friends was astounded and asked me, “How do I change that?” I explained to her what advanced directives were, specifically a healthcare proxy. And then, I sent her the link to the TakeCHARGE campaign page for more information.
Why I think the TakeCHARGE Campaign is perfect
I think the TakeCHARGE Campaign is perfect. Everything that newly minted adults need is easily accessible on the campaign’s website: www.takecharge.care.
There’s information about each of the 5 Steps as well as links to more resources and printables to help start compiling a list of medications, medical history, questions, etc. Furthermore, the campaign has many social media components on Instagram, LinkedIn, and other social media platforms to make it appealing and digestible for younger generations.
I personally created a number of memes for the campaign relating to the different steps, because who doesn’t love a good laugh? Humor helps people remember and healthcare is no exception!
I have also created Ask Abby videos for each of the steps. They provide personal stories and explain what people can do to be better-prepared as patients.
Everyone on our team has worked and continues to brainstorm the best ways to reach people because when it comes down to it, that’s what this is about. We want to reach as many people as we can and provide them with what they need to be well-prepared and informed patients.
The 5 TakeCHARGE Steps
Some people say that three is the magic number, but when it comes to being a well-prepared patient, five is the number you want to remember.
1. Complete your advanced directives
As I’ve talked about already, advanced directives can include a living will and a healthcare proxy. These documents are important because they ensure that your wishes will be followed if there is a medical situation in which you cannot speak for yourself.
2. Keep track of your medical history and medications
Doctors frequently ask questions about your health. These include inquiries about such things as past surgeries or when the symptoms of your current ailment started.
Just as a resumé helps an employer understand your suitability for a job, a personal medical history helps a clinician understand the whole picture of you as a patient. That’s especially true when you’re seeing a healthcare provider for the first time. Or when you have to see multiple providers.
Knowing your medications is also very important if a doctor needs to prescribe a new medication. This is because they need to make sure there are no side effects related to an adverse interaction with one of the drugs you are already taking.
3. Prepare a list of questions
Think ahead of time about the reason for your visit to the doctor or hospital and what you hope to get out of it. The more prepared you are, the better the results you’re likely to get from your care.
It is important to have questions prepared ahead of time because this allows both you (the patient) and the clinician to focus on getting to a diagnosis. It is also important to think of questions throughout your appointment so that there is as much clarity as possible.
4. Ask caregivers to wash their hands
As we’ve become all too familiar with this during the coronavirus pandemic, washing hands is the most effective way to prevent transmission of germs and infections. Medical staff are often very busy and under pressure. They may forget in all the hustle and bustle, so don’t be shy. Instead, ask them kindly to wash their hands before touching you.
5. Use an advocate and be an advocate for others
Everyone getting medical treatment should have someone to support and advocate for them. Among other things, this person can to the following:
- help raise questions,
- take notes,
- enhance communication with medical staff,
- make sure they are receiving patient-centered care.
Sometimes it can be intimidating to visit a doctor, so your advocate helps to ensure you receive quality care. Choosing an advocate early can help you decide what you want them to do and what they are willing to do for you.
You can also serve as an advocate for someone else, whether it be a family member, friend, or partner. Offering to be an extra set of ears, take notes, assist in updating the medical records, etc. all help prepare that person and make their healthcare experience easier.
TakeCHARGE: How Turning 18 Changed My Healthcare Forever
Turning 18 was both exciting and scary. It came with a lot of changes, some that I was prepared for and others…not so much.
Over the last two years, I have learned a lot. But nothing has been quite as important as finding out how turning 18 changed my healthcare.
Healthcare plays a key role in determining health outcomes. And, although I am young and healthy, it is still up to me to take charge of my experiences in clinics and hospitals. Here’s how:
- Having a healthcare proxy helps protect my wishes about medical decisions in the future.
- Building a medical history now helps me at appointments and will establish past health for doctors in the future.
- Asking caregivers to wash their hands protects me and builds confidence in advocating for myself and my health.
- Learning to ask questions now will create a lifelong habit that provides clarity for my doctors at appointments.
- Using an advocate ensures that I receive care that centers around me and my needs.
Like most things in life, learning about how my healthcare changed was a process. I started out with no knowledge. However, now, because of the TakeCHARGE Campaign, I feel well prepared to be a patient. And, better yet, I am equipped to help other people be well-informed patients too.