How to Choose a Champion

Everyone needs a champion, but when it comes to your health, it’s even more important. A Healthcare Champion, or caregiver, is someone you can trust to look after your best interests while you go through a medical treatment. This person is usually a loved one, such as a family member, spouse/partner or friend.

NCI image - May Blog Post

But not everyone would make a good champion. That’s why it’s crucial to choose the right champion; your Healthcare Champion should meet the following criteria:

*Dedicated to your well-being

*Willing to learn anything needed to help you

*Dependable

*Has time in their schedule (or can make time)

*Patient

*Persistent

*Organized

*Handles stress well

*Has access to a phone and a computer

Your Healthcare Champion doesn’t need to have special qualifications. He or she also doesn’t have to have extensive knowledge about your illness or the healthcare system. It’s important that they have the kindness, compassion and character to help you.

Trig has a special quiz designed to help you decide if the person you have in mind is the right person to be your Healthcare Champion. Click here to take the quiz.

If you’re interested in becoming a Healthcare Champion, click here to learn more. If you need a Healthcare Champion and want to search for one, check out Trig’s MedChamp service here.

Have any questions about this or other topics? Contact your Health Risk Consultant for personalized advice. Jeremy Vang is at jvang@trigls.com, and Emily Hulstein is at ehulstein@trigls.com.

Photo Credit:

National Cancer Institute (NCI)

How to Prepare for Emergencies

Red cross 1

You could save someone’s life – that of a stranger, a loved one, or even your own – with the right knowledge and resources.

Sometimes you’re faced with emergencies that require life-saving information. For example, CPR could save the life of someone who had gone into cardiac arrest. And knowing who to call, by having the phone number on hand, could also save precious and much-needed time when it’s urgent.

So how can you prepare for emergencies? We’ve put together a few steps and a couple of lists with key information. Here’s how you can be ready for any situation, and potentially save lives in the process:

Carry medical information. Keep this information at your fingertips to be prepared in case of an emergency:

  • Name
  • Birth date
  • Blood type
  • Organ donor information (if you are or are not one)
  • Advance directives and end-of-life wishes
  • At least two emergency contacts: name, phone number, relationship to you
  • Name and phone number of primary care physician
  • Name and phone number of pharmacy
  • List of major surgeries and their dates
  • List of major medical conditions
  • List of allergies and your reactions to them
  • List of current medications (include name, dosage, how often it is taken and reason for taking it)

Keep a well-stocked first aid kit. Be sure to keep a first aid kit around, and include these items in your kit:

  • Activated charcoal (this is an antidote to several poisons and functions as a detox for drug overdose)
  • Adhesive tape
  • Aloe Vera gel
  • Antibiotic ointment
  • Anti-diarrhea medication
  • Antihistamine
  • Antiseptic solution
  • Aspirin and non-aspiring pain killers
  • Band-aids
  • Calamine lotion
  • Cotton balls and Q-tips
  • Disposable gloves
  • Epinephrine pen
  • First aid manual
  • Gauze pads
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Hydrocortisone cream
  • Instant cold packs
  • Ipecac
  • Medicine measuring cup
  • Personal medications
  • Petroleum jelly
  • Roll of elastic bandage wrap
  • Safety pins
  • Saline solution
  • Scissors and tweezers
  • Thermometer

 

Learn CPR. This skill could save someone’s life. Learn CPR at Red Cross locations, community colleges, universities or your local city or community center. A simple search engine query, “Your city’s name” + “CPR classes” should do the trick.

 

Sources:

Build a kit: http://www.ready.gov/build-a-kit

Training and certification: http://www.redcross.org/take-a-class

Photo Credit:

Alexey Lisovoy, Dreamstime.com.

5 Steps to Choosing a Health Insurance Plan

blog image - juneYou are ultimately responsible for paying your healthcare bill after doctor visits or hospital stays. And ultimately, what makes your health insurance premium cost you less or more is the medical care you use and the amount of claims paid.

So, the health insurance plan you choose is very important. Here are five steps to help you choose the right health insurance plan for you.

Step 1: Consider Your Needs and Preferences

  • What to consider:
    • Do you need a single or family plan?
    • Do any of your family members want to purchase insurance on their own?
    • Do you or your family members have a chronic health condition such as diabetes or heart disease, or plan to have a baby? This could lead to an increased use of healthcare.

TIP: If your situation will require a lot of time spent in healthcare facilities or regular prescriptions, you will want to choose a plan that offers good coverage in these areas.

Step 2: Examine Provider Options

  • What to consider:
    • What providers are close to where you live or work?
    • What providers do you prefer?
    • Do any of your dependants have a primary care physician you would like to continue seeing?

TIP: If you or one of your dependants have a current physician they would like to continue seeing, you will want to choose a plan that covers that doctor.

Step 3: Look at Coverage Options

  • What to consider:
    • Can I get coverage through my employer?
    • Am I willing to pay out-of-pocket costs for premiums, co-pays, deductible, prescriptions and other service fees?

TIP: Consider what your biggest needs may be, as well as what you can afford. This will help you choose the best policy for your situation.

Step 4: Compare Plans

  • What to consider:
    • Does the plan fit my needs?
    • What does the plan cover for doctor’s visits, hospital stays, surgery, etc.?
    • How much coverage is provided?
    • Do I need the services provided?
    • Am I comfortable with these costs?
    • Does the plan cover my desired providers?

TIP: If you have multiple plans to consider, first rule out those that do not meet your needs, then compare your remaining options. The more frequently you believe a service will be used, the more important the coverage.

Step 5: Make a Decision

  • What to consider:
    • Ask yourself many of the questions you’ve already considered. This will ensure you’re going in the right direction in choosing a policy.
    • Are you comfortable with the plan you’re considering selecting?

TIP: Be sure that you’re satisfied with the plan you select. It’s important to be comfortable with your policy.

 

Photo Credit:

Anatoliy Babiychuk/Dreamstime Stock Photos

Leaving the Hospital or Clinic: A How-To Guide

When you leave a hospital or clinic after getting treated, it’s important to know the right steps to take. Ultimately, this will help you stay healthy, save money and reduce unnecessary visits later. Unfortunately, many people encounter problems after a stay in a hospital or clinic; about a third of patients say they have continuing issues afterward. So what should you do to prevent problems and ensure you take all the right steps as you leave? Trig Life Services has put together a step-by-step process for you:

NCI image - May Blog Post

1.)  Before you leave, be sure to get any necessary information for carrying out your treatment plan. Do this at least a day before you leave so that your family, doctor or the hospital can arrange monitoring services if you need them at home.

2.)  Ask about possible complications – and what to do if they arise. You should be sure you have a good understanding of what symptoms you could experience, possible signs of complications, as well as who to contact should something happens. You can ask these questions:

  • What are the potential side effects, physical problems or pain that can be expected?
  • What can I do to relieve this pain?
  • If problems arise, who should I contact?
  • How likely is my condition to flare up?
  • What is the expected recovery time?

3.)  Get a copy of your treatment plan (or discharge summary) and make sure you have a full understanding of your recovery instructions. Ask the following questions:

  • What should I do when I get home?
  • Do you have any care instructions?
  • What future tests, procedures and appointments are part of my treatment plan?
  • How long will my treatment plan continue?
  • Will there be changes in my treatment plan over time? If yes, what changes will occur?
  • Who can I talk to if I have questions about my treatment plan down the road?

4.)  Find out if you have any activity restrictions – if so, what they are, and how long they will last. You can ask these questions:

  • Can I shower?
  • Do I have any dietary restrictions?
  • Can I return to work? If not immediately, when?
  • If I need clearance to return to work, who do I need to contact?
  • What is considered “rest”? How long do I need to rest for?
  • Will I need anyone to help me or will I be able to manage the treatment plan on my own?

5.)  If you are prescribed medications, know what they are, what they do, as well as instructions on how and when to take them. IMPORTANT: if you are taking any other medications, make sure you discuss any possible issues between the medications you are taking and the new ones. Ask the following to ensure you have a good understanding of your medications:

  • What new medications have I been prescribed?
  • What instructions do you have regarding these medications?
  • Why am I prescribed these medications?
  • What side effects could I experience as a result of taking these medications?
  • Who should I contact if I am having problems with my presciptions?
  • Have my medications been sent to my pharmacy?

6.)  Learn about any follow-up appointments that may be necessary and schedule them. You can ask:

  • Is there a follow-up appointment? If yes, is the appointment with you or someone else?
  • How many follow-up appointments are needed and when? When should I schedule these?
  • What can I do to keep my treatment prices down?

7.)  Arrange for any at-home aide or assistance that may be necessary. This could include personal care, household care or emotional care. IMPORTANT: contact your insurance company to make sure these types of services will be covered before you use them.

8.)  Ask about anything that is unclear to you. Never leave if you feel unsure about anything.

9.)  Do not to leave the hospital or clinic without first going over the bill (this helps to decrease billing confusion later). Be sure to do the following:

  • Request an itemized list of services.
  • Request to have an accounting person review it with you so you can make sure it is accurate.
  • Take a copy with you so that you can compare it to the actual explanation you receive from your insurance company or bill you receive from the healthcare provider.
  • Ask the accounting office if the price you are being billed is the negotiated rate with your insurance company. Checking this can help ensure you don’t have to pay more than these rates.

10.) When you leave, don’t ignore your doctor’s instructions. Follow your treatment plan and instructions very carefully. Not taking prescribed medication, missing follow-up appointments, not taking care of incisions and not getting therapy are all potential setbacks to recovery.

Remembering the answers to all these questions can be difficult. Having a discharge checklist can help to ease the process. Below are links to two discharge tools that may be helpful for you.

http://www.triglifeservices.com/uploads/modules/Discharge%20Checklist%20Tool.pdf

http://www.npsf.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/Post-Discharge-Tool.pdf

For more information about preparing to leave the hospital or clinic, Trig members can watch or read Healthcare Navigation Module 9: While I am a Patient and Module 10: When My Treatment Ends

Sources:

http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/2012/10/your-hospital-survival-guide/index.htm

http://caregiver.org/hospital-discharge-planning-guide-families-and-caregivers

Photo Credit:

National Cancer Institute (NCI)

How to Find the Right Doctor

The majority of the content in this blog post is from Trig’s Healthcare Navigation Module 8: Selecting a Healthcare Professional.

couple with doctor

Finding the right doctor can be a difficult task. Not only do you want a provider who’s in your area, in your insurance network and in your price range, but you also want to feel comfortable with them and feel confident that they are meeting your needs and wishes. This is a tall order, but it can be done.

Many people don’t take the time to search for the right doctor – or don’t know how – and end up going to see whichever doctor is available. This isn’t a good plan, either, because you’ll want a doctor with whom you can develop a relationship and establish trust. Whether you’re seeking a general practitioner or a specialist, if you’re entrusting your health to this person, you should probably make sure they’re the right fit by doing your research and meeting with them ahead of time.

Here are some steps to follow to find the right doctor for you:

  1. Research your condition
  2. Search for doctors in your area and insurance network
  3. Research quality
  4. Set up an informational consultation
  5. Make a decision
  6. Ensure you are getting good quality care

Step 1: Research Your Condition

Before you even schedule an appointment, it’s a good idea to conduct some simple research on your own to learn more about your condition and symptoms using resources like WebMDthe Mayo Clinicthe National Cancer Institute and the National Institutes of Health. Doing your own research may help you understand and answer your doctor’s questions more completely when you go in. However, beware of diagnosing yourself based solely on your web research; visiting a healthcare professional is always the best way to receive an accurate diagnosis.

Step 2: Search for Doctors in Your Area and Insurance Network

Oftentimes, the best place to start your search is your insurance company’s website. Most insurance companies have online provider directories that allow you to search for in-network physicians or facilities by zip code, specialty, etc. Trig members can use our Provider Search for quick access to these directories.

Step 3: Research Quality

Once you have narrowed down your list of potential doctors, you should research each of them to find out the following information:

  • Certifications
  • Years practicing (experience)
  • Specialties
  • Reviews/ratings
  • Complaints from patients

Some of this information you can get from your insurance company’s directory, but some of it you may have to get elsewhere. You can contact your state’s Board of Medical Practice to find out if any complaints have been filed against a doctor. Certificationmatters.org has a search feature that allows you to find out if a doctor/specialist is certified by the American Board of Medical Specialties. And you can access reviews and/or ratings of healthcare professionals on the following sites:

Step 4: Set Up an Informational Consultation

After conducting your research, set up an informational consultation with a doctor (or doctors) you are interested in. You can do this by calling the the physician’s office and setting up the consultation over the phone. During your appointment, be sure to do the following:

  • Confirm that they are covered by your insurance.
  • Ask questions about their experience.
  • Assess your comfort level.
  • Ask how they expect your treatment plan to work (if applicable).
  • Ask if you can contact them after hours when needed.

You should also ask yourself the following questions after the appointment to determine whether or not the doctor is a good fit:

  • Do I trust this person? Do I feel respected and heard?
  • Does the doctor explain critical information clearly so that I understand it?
  • Are the facilities up to my standards, and are they located a convenient distance from my home?

Step 5: Make a Decision

Once you’ve gone through steps 1-4, it’s time to choose a doctor. Remember that ultimately you’ll want to select a doctor or specialist that you feel comfortable with. Trust your instincts when you make your decision.

Step 6: Ensure You are Getting Good Quality Care 

You want your healthcare providers to be skilled and knowledgeable, of course. But that’s not enough – they should also be good at communicating with you. Do they listen carefully and explain things in a way that you can understand? Do they take your values and preferences into account and involve you in making decisions that affect your health? Do they spend enough time with you and make you feel comfortable about asking questions?

If the answer to these questions is ‘no,’ perhaps you should reevaluate your decision. If the doctor you choose doesn’t turn out to be a good fit, don’t be afraid to change doctors. Your health matters too much for you to stay with a provider who isn’t meeting your needs.

For more information about finding the right doctor or specialist, Trig members can read or watch Healthcare Navigation Module 8: Selecting a Healthcare Professional. 

Additional Resources:

Image Credit: Rhoda Baer

Circuit Training: 30-Minute Workouts You Can Do at Home

The following is a guest post by Nancy Biber. Nancy is a certified personal trainer and is the Quality Assurance Specialist for Trig.

As George Washington once said, “He that is good for making excuses is seldom good at anything else.”

For 20+ years I worked in a gym, so I really had no excuse not to get my workouts in. Since joining the “desk job” work force, I’ve had to get a little more creative. I don’t always have time to get to the gym, and I definitely don’t have all day to work out. That’s why I’ve started doing circuit training. It’s easy to find 30 minutes in my day to work out, and these short workouts pack a punch. Now I lead circuit training classes at the Trig office at least twice a week and fill in other workouts with running, Zumba class and/or Yoga.

Circuit training is a form of high-intensity interval training that combines multiple small workouts into one comprehensive session. The combination of weight training and cardiovascular effort makes circuit training a beneficial type of cross-training and a great way to burn calories. You’ll gain muscle through the resistance training, and you’ll increase your cardiovascular endurance through the elevated heart rate that you maintain throughout the program. You’ll also burn lots of calories during the high exertion periods of your sets - on average, a person weighing 150 pounds will burn about 10 calories per minute. For a 30-minute circuit training workout, that’s 300 calories burned! 

I’ve listed two of my favorite 30-minute circuit training workouts below. The great thing about these workouts (in addition to being short) is that you can do them at home! You don’t have to have a gym membership or much equipment to do these exercises.

Workout #1: Ladder Training

The idea of ladder training is to gradually increase the amount of reps you do up to a certain number, and then count back down again to 1. For this workout, start by doing one rep of each exercise listed below, then do two reps of each exercise, then three, and so on until you reach 10 reps per exercise. Then count back down to 9 reps per exercise, 8 reps, and so on all the way back down to 1.

Refer to the photos and their corresponding descriptions below.

circuit training workout 1

  1. Two-legged squat: Start in a standing position with your feet shoulder-width apart. Squat down as if you’re sitting on an invisible chair – move the hips back and bend the knees and hips to 90 degrees, then return to the upright position. Keep your back straight.
  2. Push-ups: You can do these on the floor (regular, or modified with your knees touching the ground), against the wall (stand facing the wall and push against the wall), on an elevated platform (such as a desk) or using an exercise ball (with your legs balanced on the ball and your hands on the floor). The standard floor push-up is the most challenging of these.
  3. Abdominal crunch: To isolate your abdominal muscles, lie on your back with your knees slightly bent. Make sure your feet are planted firmly on the floor and about hip-width apart. Keep your knees comfortably apart. Fold your arms on your chest or cradle your head/neck and tighten your abdominal muscles. Raise your head and shoulders off of the floor. Hold for three seconds and lower yourself back down.
  4. Standing lunges: Step back into the lunge. Keep your back straight and keep your knees behind your toes as you lower to a 90 degree bend at your hips and knees. Alternate legs.
  5. Tricep dips: Start on all fours with your stomach facing up. Keep your back straight and your elbows in, finger tips facing forward. Lower yourself with your arms and then life back up. Make it easier or harder by placing your feet closer to your body (easier) or further from your body (harder).
  6. Single-leg squat: Start by standing with your feet shoulder-width apart. Completely lift one leg or raise one foot so just the toe touches the floor. Lower into squat position and keep the one leg/foot raised. Alternate legs.
  7. Burpee: Begin in a standing position. Drop down into a full squat with your hands touching the ground. Kick your feet back into plank position, keeping your elbows extended. Then jump your feet back to squat and jump back up into the standing position. 
  8. Superman lifts: Lie face down on your stomach with arms and legs extended. Keep your neck in a neutral position. With your arms and legs straight (but not locked) and torso stationary, simultaneously lift all of your arms and legs up toward the ceiling to form an elongated “u” shape with your body — the back arches, and your arms and legs lift several inches off the floor. Hold for 2-5 seconds and lower back down.
  9. Side plank, each side: Lay on your side so that only your forearm and the side of your foot are touching the ground. Make your body into a straight line (side plank position). Bend at the waist and lower your hip towards the ground and then back up again. Repeat for the desired amount of repetitions and then switch sides.

Workout #2: 1-Minute Reps

For this routine, you will need a stop watch and a pair of dumbbells or soup cans.  Perform each exercise for 1 minute. After you’ve finished all 9 exercises, do 1 minute of cardio – run in place, do jumping jacks or run up and down stairs. Repeat the entire set 2 more times for 30 minutes of activity.

Refer to the photos and their corresponding descriptions below.

circuit training workout 2

  1. Plank: Hold yourself up in plank position with only your forearms and toes touching the mat. Keep your body in a straight line from head to heels (avoiding hip sag), and keep your abdominals tight for the duration.
  2. Plie squat jump: Stand with your legs about two feet apart, toes turned out. Bend your knees and squat down until your thighs are parallel to the floor. Then jump off the ground, bringing your feet to hip-width apart and land softly on your toes. 
  3. Rows: Hold one dumbbell in each hand. From standing position, bend over at the hips, keeping your back straight and parallel and a slight bend in your knees. Be sure your elbows stay at your sides as you raise your elbows to the ceiling and lower the weight back down.
  4. Bridge: Lay on your back with your hands by your sides, your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Make sure your feet are under your knees – you should be able to touch your heel with your fingers. Tighten your abdominal and butt muscles, and raise your hips up to create a straight line from your knees to shoulders. Squeeze your core and try to pull your belly button back toward your spine.  The goal is to maintain a straight line from your shoulders to your knees and hold for 20-30 seconds.
  5. Mountain climbers: Begin in a push-up position on the hands and toes. Bring the right knee into the chest toward the left shoulder and resting the right foot on the floor. Jump up and switch feet in the air, bringing the left knee in and the right leg back. You can also run the knees in and out without touching the toes to the floor.
  6. Shoulder press with bicep curl: Hold a dumbbell in your right hand. Keep your back straight and your abdominals tight. Do a bicep curl and then raise the dumbbell to the ceiling for a shoulder press before lowering back down. Maintain a slight bend in your elbows at the top of each repetition, about 90 degrees when you lower the weight. Keep your elbows close to your body and turn your palm inward as you lower the weight toward the floor, then squeeze the biceps as you lift the weight back up and press overhead. After 30 seconds, switch to your left hand.
  7. Skater lunges: Cross your right leg behind your left leg as you bend your left knee into a half-squat position. Extend your left arm out to the side, and swing your right arm across your hips. Hop a few feet directly to the right, switching the position of your legs and arms, and bend down. Keep repeating side to side for 1 minute.
  8. Side bends: Hold a pair of dumbbells at your sides, arms straight and core engaged. Without twisting your upper body, slowly bend to the left as far as you can, lowering the weight toward your left knee. Pause, and then slowly return to an upright position. Repeat, bending to the right side.
  9. Wall sit with goal post arms: Squat with your back against a wall – form a right angle at your hips and your knees, your back flat against the wall and your heels on the ground. Extend your arms out to your sides at shoulder height, elbows bent 90 degrees, palms facing forward. The back of your arms should be touching the wall. To make this more challenging, slowly move your arms up the wall. 

Remember: due to the lack of rest that circuit training demands, you will maintain elevated heart rates for the entire period of exercise. If you have a history or family history of heart issues, make sure you talk to your doctor before starting a new physical activity program.

Good luck, and happy exercising!

– Nancy

Shopping for Medical Services: A How-To Guide

surgeons operatingIn a recent article on The Atlantic, Dr. Helen Ouyang discusses the difficulty she experienced as a patient in the healthcare system. Even with all of her “insider knowledge,” she still had trouble finding the right doctor and understanding how pricing worked. This is becoming an increasingly common issue as high-deductible, self-pay and other insurance plans with high out-of-pocket costs become the norm. We are expected to make our own decisions about our healthcare, and yet we have no idea where to start or how to get the best value for our dollar.

This post is meant to be a “how-to” guide to shopping for medical services. We’ll address some important questions, offer tips and list some helpful websites to use for comparison shopping.

Why is it important to shop around for medical services?

1. Healthcare is a commodity, and you are a consumer.

Do you buy the first house you see because your realtor recommends it? Do you buy the first car the salesman points to? Do you send your children to whichever daycare is closest to your house? Of course not. You don’t make blind decisions about other large purchases, nor do you entrust the lives of your loved ones to just anyone, so why would you do the same with the most important and often the most expensive commodity you’ll buy?

The main incentive for shopping around first is to ensure that you’re doing everything you can to get the best possible medical care for the best possible price.

2. Prices are not the same everywhere.

Prices can vary drastically for the same test, procedure or service at different locations. Here’s an example: in a recent Wall Street Journal article entitled “How to Bring the Price of Health Care Into the Open,” five hospitals in the greater Los Angeles area were profiled on the prices they charge for certain treatments. Amongst these hospitals – which are all within a few miles of each other – the cost of treating a brain hemorrhage ranges from $31,668 to $178,435. That’s a cost difference of $146,767 between two different hospitals in the same zip code for the same treatment.

It’s up to you to educate yourself about the cost of your medical services and find the best value.

When should I shop around for medical services?

  • Less complex services or situations: When services are less complex, comparison shopping will be more effective because you have a better idea of exactly what you are shopping for. Less complex situations also require less customization of care. When services are more complex, it’s harder to find useful price quotes without substantial costs in time, money and treatment delay. Examples of less complex services include: dental cleanings, preventive care (screenings, immunizations etc.), prescription medications and standard tests or procedures.
  • No Urgency or Emergency: Shopping around is easier in situations where you have time to consider price and quality. A good example of this would be any procedure or test that is scheduled in advance, such as a hip replacement surgery. This allows you time to go home and do your research before scheduling the appointment. Examples of urgent situations would be any type of emergency medical situation that requires immediate action, such as a heart attack. However, you can still plan ahead for emergencies by choosing the hospital you want to go to and outlining your medical wishes in an advance directive or similar document.
  • Diagnosis is Given: Price shopping is more effective when you have a diagnosis and treatment plan from your doctor, because you know exactly which services you need and can then compare prices for those services at various locations.
  • High Out-of-Pocket Costs: The more you have to pay out of pocket, the more time you should spend shopping around to try and save yourself money.

What do I do when my doctor recommends a medical service?

Here are some rules of thumb to follow:

  1. First, ask yourself if you’re comfortable with your doctor’s diagnosis and/or recommendations. If not, consider getting a second opinion from a different doctor before moving forward with the recommended test, treatment or procedure.
  2. For smaller services (e.g. lab tests, x-rays and other “protocol” services) – ask your doctor why the test or service is necessary and what will happen if you choose not to have the service done. You can also ask what it will cost.
  3. For larger outpatient services (e.g. surgery, MRI, etc.) – don’t feel pressure to schedule these right away with your provider, even if they ask. If it’s not an urgent situation, you can go home and comparison shop first to find the best value, which may not be at your current clinic or hospital.

girl using laptop

How do I shop around for medical services?

  • Check With Your Insurer: Some insurance companies post provider prices on their websites. This allows you to compare prices among network providers for the tests, treatments and other services they offer. See below for links to this search feature on some major insurance company websites.
  • Search the Web:
    • HealthInReach.com: Search by specialty and location for a list of providers in your area and their prices.
    • HealthcareBlueBook.com: This site compiles prices paid for specific treatments and procedures by zip code and lists a range of fair prices. You can use these as a starting point for negotiations.
    • MediBid.com: This is an online marketplace for patients to request bids from physicians in their area based on their medical needs.
    • OkCoPay.com: Search for doctors by location and medical specialty to view and compare prices.
  • Browse State Data: Many states require hospitals to make their prices public. When you’re researching hospitals, check your state government’s website for pricing information about the hospitals in your area. A few things to keep in mind, however:
    • Often, only the most expensive, non-discounted prices are listed.
    • Some states offer more information than others.
    • On most sites, the costs are not bundled, meaning they don’t include added fees in the listed price.
  • Talk to Your Doctor: Did you know that the prices for most medical services are negotiable? When you talk to your doctor about money, it can often lead to discounts. You should feel comfortable asking your doctor what a service will cost and if it’s possible to reduce the price. If your doctor doesn’t want to discuss money or can’t answer your questions, ask to talk with someone in charge of billing. This person will know the prices your doctor charges and can estimate what you will pay. Then you can do some comparison shopping and contact the billing person again to try and negotiate a better price.

Below are links to some of the major health insurance companies’ websites. These links will take you to their online provider directories or price comparison tools that you can use to find network doctors and facilities near you and possibly compare prices. Choose your insurer from the list to get started:

For more information about shopping for medical services, getting second opinions and understanding your treatment options, Trig members can watch or read Healthcare Navigation Module 6: Verifying My Illness and Module 7: Selecting Treatment Options. 

Sources:

Photo Credits: Phalinn Ooi, Ed Yourdon

Empowering the Healthcare Consumer

Couple smiling

With all of the past and current efforts to impact the health of individuals, organizations and communities and reduce healthcare costs, it should come as no surprise that there are differing opinions as to what works and what doesn’t.

Recently, RAND and PepsiCo released results of a study they conducted on Pepsi’s wellness program that contradicted what most of us have heard or assumed about the cost impact of wellness programs. The study states that while there are positive effects from wellness programs, “employers and policy makers should not take for granted that the lifestyle management components of such programs can reduce health care costs or even lead to net savings.” In other words, the ROI of wellness programs is still murky at best.

While I don’t want to get mired in this debate, it seems to me like it may be time to take the focus off of lifestyle management programs and place more of an emphasis on programs that will have a direct impact on costs — programs that train people on the healthcare system. While there is still intrinsic value in improving a population’s health, there is measurable, quantifiable value in teaching people how to use healthcare more effectively and empowering them to make their own decisions.

In other words, I believe in the power of the individual healthcare consumer. As consumers, we have the power to make a real and profound impact on the system as a whole. We can and should have a say in the quality, safety and cost of the medical care we receive. There are few other businesses or services in this country in which people don’t advocate for themselves or for others — whether that’s with their shoes (by walking out when needed) or their wallet (by making decisions based on cost). Right now healthcare is an exception to this rule, but it should not stay this way. People have a voice, and they deserve to be heard.

The design of the healthcare system is very complex, and this can lead to negative outcomes for patients whose care is not being managed properly. So far, the response to this issue has been to reform the system itself with a goal of quality improvement. There is nothing wrong with that approach, but it isn’t enough. I stand firmly on the side of the consumers and the important role they play. Instead of putting more pressure on overburdened healthcare providers, it is time to arm the individual consumer with the knowledge, skills and resources to make the most of every medical appointment, improve interactions with their providers and look to themselves to impact quality and cost whenever and wherever they can.

Let’s work together for better costs, better care and a better healthcare system.

Click here to learn more about Trig’s Healthcare Navigation services and membership options. You can also watch our YouTube video to learn about our vision to change healthcare, one person at a time.

Image Credit: Rhoda Baer, National Cancer Institute 

How to Organize Your Health Information

The majority of content in this post is borrowed from Trig’s Healthcare Navigation Module 4: Managing My Health Information.

medical charts

Most of us don’t give too much thought to our health information. Our doctors keep our medical records on file for us and update them whenever we come in. So we shouldn’t have to worry about it, right?

Wrong.

It’s very important for you to keep track of your own health information. Of course your records will be stored for you at the clinic or hospital, but what if you start seeing a new doctor or specialist? What if you are seeing multiple doctors? Or worse – what if your records are incorrect?

When you keep track of your own health information, you enhance your healthcare experience by providing your physicians with up-to-date information, learning more about your health and taking a more active role in your medical care.

In this post, we’ll cover ways for you to safely organize, store and keep track of your health information at home, starting with the information you’ll want to collect.

What information should I keep track of?
The items in bold represent information you should definitely include in your personal records:

  • Personal identification information (full name and birth date)
  • People to contact in case of an emergency
  • Names, addresses and phone numbers of your primary care physician, dentist and specialists
  • Your health insurance information (carrier name, policy number, etc.)
  • Living will, advance directives or medical power of attorney
  • Current medications and dosages
  • Allergies and drug sensitivities
  • Herbal medications, supplements, etc.
  • Organ donor authorization (if applicable)
  • Chronic or ongoing health issues (e.g. asthma, diabetes, etc.)
  • Your medical history with dates (e.g. major illnesses, surgeries, etc.)
  • Your immunizations and their dates
  • Family history and hereditary conditions present in your family
  • Results from your most recent physical exam
  • Important test results
  • Medical bills
  • EOBs (Explanation of Benefits) from your insurance
  • Opinions from specialists
  • Dietary practices (especially if they have impacted your health)
  • Dental/vision records
  • Current educational materials relating to your health
  • Other information you want to include relating to your health (e.g. exercise frequently, non-smoker, etc.)

How can I organize and store my health information safely?
You have a few different options when it comes to organizing and storing your health information, depending on your preference between paper and electronic records.

1. Paper Records (hard copies):
If you prefer storing hard copies of your medical records and information, you should keep it organized in a binder with dividers, an accordion file, or something similar. If you are organizing health information for your entire family, consider creating a separate binder/folder for each person in order to avoid mixing up information. It may be helpful to separate your information into the following categories:

  • Personal information and contacts
  • Current/ongoing conditions (e.g. asthma, diabetes, other chronic diseases)
  • Current medications and allergies
  • Past medical history and important test results
  • Family medical history
  • Bills and EOBs

Some of this information you will need to type up yourself, whereas some can be pulled from your medical records or other documents. If you have an official copy of your medical records from your doctor, be sure to store that here as well.

Tips for Safe Storage:
Your health information should be stored in a secure place that is easily accessible in case of emergency. These records contain personal confidential information and should therefore be treated like any other important paper document, such as a birth certificate or social security card. Records should be kept in a locked, fire-resistant file cabinet or safe, and you should decide carefully who has access to these documents.

HealthVault

2. Electronic Records:

a. Offline
You can store your records electronically by either saving them directly to your computer (in a folder) or on a CD or thumb drive. You may find it helpful to create sub-folders on your computer or device to help organize your information.

Tips for Safe Storage:
Make sure that any health information you store on a computer is password-protected and backed up on a hard drive in case the computer is broken, stolen or hacked. If you choose to load your records onto an electronic device (CD, thumb drive, hard drive, etc.), make sure to store the device in a secure location as you would paper records or other important documents.

b. Online (PHRs)
Websites that store your health information electronically are called Personal Health Records, or PHRs. You choose the information that goes in your PHR and you are responsible for managing it and keeping it updated. Some PHRs will also connect to your provider network and pull information from your doctor’s records. Some healthcare providers actually offer PHRs now in order to communicate directly with patients, show test results, remind about appointments, etc. If your provider doesn’t have a PHR, you can find one online. Here are a couple examples:

  • HealthVault: Microsoft HealthVault is a popular PHR website. It’s also available as an app you can download to your smartphone or tablet. It lets you store your health information (allergies, medications, insurance, etc.); your measurements (blood pressure, cholesterol, weight, etc.); trackers (dietary intake, exercise, sleep, etc.); and important contacts. It can also potentially pull your records directly from your doctors and pharmacy, if they are partnered with HealthVault.
  • iTriage: iTriage is a PHR website and app. It lets you store health information (“My iTriage”), symptoms, doctors, conditions, medications and procedures. It also provides information on healthcare facilities that are close to you. You can download iTriage from the App Store or Google Play.

Tips for Safe Storage:
If your health information is stored online – whether it’s through your provider, insurance company or other website/app – make sure that the site is secure and password-protected.

To learn more about medical records, Personal Health Records and your rights to your information, Trig members can read or watch Healthcare Navigation Module 4: Managing My Health Information.

If you’re interested in exploring or discussing topics like this, we invite you to check out our discussion forum, which is free and open to the public.

Additional PHR Resources:

Image Credits: Wikimedia Commons, Healthvault.com