As I shared in a recent post, the U.S. healthcare system continues to have a lot of room for improvement. Despite being quite expensive, it does not keep its citizens as healthy as the systems in other industrialized countries.
The debate for how to improve the healthcare system continues. Meanwhile, those of us who are served by this system are wise to understand its strengths and weaknesses so that we can be proactive about getting what we need.
As with anything, a good place to start is how we think about the problem. What assumptions do we have about our relationship to our healthcare system — and are they correct?
Here are four common myths that work against your wellness.
- The healthcare system keeps you well — Hopefully you've noticed that the healthcare system is not actually designed to help you pursue wellness. It is primarily designed to detect whether you have a health problem (screening and detection) and to treat problems when they are found (treatment). While most healthcare providers value wellness, and may even encourage behaviors that will promote wellness and prevent disease, they receive very little compensation to help you do that. The work of promoting your own well-being is mostly up to you.
- More healthcare is better — Our healthcare system has very advanced diagnostic and treatment options for health problems. Just because tests and treatments can be done, though, doesn't mean that they are a good idea. Diagnostic tests can lead to increased risks (such as radiation from X-rays and clots, bleeding, and infection from invasive procedures) as well as the potential for over treatment. Antibiotics, for example, can be very helpful if your body is losing the fight against a dangerous microorganism. On the other hand, when they are overused, they weaken your immune system and create resistant bacteria. When it comes to choosing tests and treatments, less is often better.
- Healthcare professionals know better than you — People who pursue careers in healthcare are often known for their intelligence and caring. It is important to be able to trust your healthcare providers and to rely on them for information that can help you make informed decisions. Please remember, though, that you are central in the decision-making process. No one knows your body, your history, and your values like you do. You are the expert in your own life, and it is important to develop relationships with your healthcare team that encourage your participation in decision-making.
- If health insurance doesn't cover it, it must not be important — As I mentioned in the first point, healthcare providers are not well-compensated to provide services aimed at wellness. Just because health insurance doesn't cover it though, doesn't mean it isn't a good idea. Consider the example of your car. Your car insurance covers you in the event of an accident. It does not cover all the other things that a conscientious car owner might do for their car — new tires, oil changes, tune-ups, washes and waxes. Isn't it interesting that we expect to pay "out-of-pocket" for things that keep our cars running well and looking good, but we balk at paying for services that might do the same for us? This is ironic, since our bodies are the only "vehicles" that we get to drive around in this life — and we don't have the option of upgrading to a new model!
One of the reasons that we have a healthcare system that doesn't work efficiently, is that we TOLERATE a healthcare system that doesn't work efficiently. As citizens and consumers, we can start to change this by expecting more - and by debunking the myths that keep us stuck. We can be in the driver's seat of our own well-being, and ask those on our healthcare team for the services and support that will keep us there.
What about you? Which of these myths have you seen in action and how did you respond? Please share your wisdom with us in the comments below!