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Resolve to Get Involved

By Peter Joseph

As you review your goals for the new year, include engaging employees in their health care decisions on your list. Educating employees on their part in medical care can lead to increased quality of life and productivity, and decreased sick leave and health care expense. Consider the impact of employee health empowerment in these terms: When an employee chooses to see a primary care provider or visits an urgent care facility instead of taking an unnecessary trip to the emergency room, it can save thousands of dollars in medical expenses. And early detection and prevention bring the priceless benefit of longer, healthier lives.

Use information resources

Health plans work hard to offer quality health care, but employees still play animportant part in the process. Excellent employee resources include access to online information, on-site health fairs and case managers who help with serious medical conditions. These trained professionals can help people make educated decisions about seeking treatment. Supplying employees with a book covering basic health problems and distributing health information brochures also educates them. Inviting local doctors, nurses and health insurance representatives to put on presentations can further enhance employees access to health knowledge.

Choose a doctor

Employees first step to becoming more involved entails finding doctors who will work with them in caring for their health or letting their current doctors know they desire to actively participate in their treatment. Encourage employees to look for the following qualities in a primary care physician.

"An attentive listener who wants to work with the patient

"A clear communicator who explains the diagnosis in a helpful manner

"Solid medical training and experience, including board certification

"Accessible in terms of office hours, appointment availability, response to messages and hospital locations

Supply a thorough list of questions employees should consider when choosing a physician. Also, make sure they understand how to locate a physician within their health plan.

Evaluate the condition

Thorough self-evaluation before calling or seeing a doctor can help employees determine when to see a medical provider and make their visits most productive. Consider providing copies of a form or placing a document online that lists the questions asked at the beginning of every doctor visit.

"What are your symptoms and when didthey begin?

"Is this the first time you have experienced this problem?

"Do you have any idea why you might have this condition, including life changes or people around you having these symptoms?

"Are you taking any medications?

"Before and after going into the doctor, employees should try to research their condition. Asking the doctor for reference material, searching the Internet for reputable information and referring to employee health guides can help them develop a sense of what might be wrong and what treatments are available.

In learning about their conditions, patients actively participate in their health care.

Ask questions

While employees are at a visit, they shouldalways feel comfortable asking questions. Make sure employees know to ask:

"What tests, medicines and treatments are you recommending?

"Why are these actions necessary?

"Are there risks involved in these procedures, and are there alternatives?

"What procedures do I need to follow when taking tests or medicines?

"Do I need to call for results or to schedule another appointment?

"Should I look for certain warning signs?

Patients have a right to know and understand what a doctor recommends. They also have the responsibility to learn about the choices available to them.

Encourage employees to ask questions and to make a record of their doctors answers. Patients should never feel pressured to make a quick decision. Depending on people's medical history, values and preferences, they may choose a different alternative than the first option the doctor suggests.

Partnering in their health care enhances employees medical care and also plays a significant role in containing health care costs. Make employee health education one of your top goals for 2006 and contribute to a healthy, happy new year.

About The Author

Peter Joseph is senior vice president for commercial sales for VISTA, a health benefits company headquartered in South Florida with more than 330,000 members. VISTA, through its affiliated companies, Vista Health Plans Inc., Vista Health Plans of South Florida Inc. and Vista Insurance Plan Inc., offers a choice of health benefit plans including health maintenance organization (HMO), preferred provider organization (PPO) and point-of-service (POS). Reach Joseph through VISTA's Web site at www.vistahealthplan.com.


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