Summary: Maintaining your health literacy and engaging with your healthcare in your later years can have a significant impact on healthcare outcomes. In this article, you’ll learn how to identify reputable health resources and make informed decisions about your health. Estimated Read Time: 7 min
Table of Contents:
- Identify Reputable Health Resources
- Learn to Assess the Reputability and Validity of Health Resources
- Review Your Family Health History
- Be Aware of Common Health Concerns in Older Adults
- Know What Questions to Ask
- Learn About Patient-Provider Communication Technologies
- Be Aware of Insurance and Other Payment Options
- Consider Requesting the Assistance of a Patient Advocate
- Find a Doctor You Feel Comfortable With
- Be Aware of Targeted Healthcare Scams
As we age, we may find our healthcare needs increasing and becoming more complex. To ensure you’re getting the care you need, it’s important to maintain and continue to improve your health literacy. Being able to understand and explain your health conditions, treatments, and other related information will not only help you and your loved ones understand your healthcare needs but will also help you advocate for yourself in medical settings.
Older adults face unique challenges when it comes to making decisions about their healthcare. Many older individuals live on a fixed income, which can play a big role in decisions regarding healthcare. Additionally, since seniors likely have increased healthcare needs, they are often the target of scams and misinformation.
Learning how to make informed decisions about your health can help you overcome these challenges and improve your healthcare outcomes.
With so much information at our fingertips, it can sometimes be difficult to discern which health resources are trustworthy and which are not. Health misinformation can be detrimental to your health and wellbeing. Some examples of highly reputable health resources include:
- The National Institutes of Health
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
- American Heart Association
Each of the resources above provide factual, non-biased information related to healthcare. These sites are either owned by the U.S. government, or by a nonprofit organization. Therefore, their information is not influenced by for-profit companies. These sites are also updated regularly, providing up-to-date and relevant information.
When looking for health resources online, there are a few things you can do to assess the reputability of the website you are looking at. Here are a few things to look for:
- Does the web address (URL) end in .gov, .edu, or .org? These websites are typically more creditable than websites that end in .com
- Look for an “About Us” section of the site and review it. If the company is trying to sell or promote products or services, the information on the site may be biased.
- Check if the information is up to date – look for phrases such as “last updated” to see if the information is current.
- Compare information or look for additional sources. If a website claims something and you can’t find mention of it anywhere else, it may not be accurate.
Are you familiar with your family’s health history? Learning which diseases and health conditions your family members have or had can help you and your doctor identify health risks and establish a preventative plan. Though genetic conditions may be the first thing that comes to mind, family health history can also help your doctor identify habits or environmental elements that may have contributed to a condition or illness.
Take time to speak with your family members about their health. If you have access to death certificates or family medical records, these pieces of information can also provide valuable insight to the health of your family members. Share and update your family health history with your doctor regularly, especially if your family has a history of cancer, heart disease, or diabetes.
Understanding common health concerns and issues among older adults is important as you age. Knowing how to identify common health issues can help lead to early detection and treatment. Beginning treatment for a condition or illness can significantly impact outcomes. Common health concerns in older adults include:
- Chronic conditions such as hypertension, osteoarthritis, and diabetes
- Alzheimer’s disease and dementia
- Limited mobility and physical disabilities
According to the National Council on Aging, 94.9% of adults over age 60 have at least one chronic condition. The risk for conditions like Alzheimer’s disease and dementia increases with age, with women making up almost two-thirds of all Americans with Alzheimer’s disease.
Before your doctor’s visit, you should consider which questions you’d like to ask your doctor. It’s important to remember that although doctors are very knowledgeable, they are not with you every day. By being proactive and asking questions during your doctor’s visit, you can help keep your health on track. Good questions to ask your healthcare provider as you age can include:
- Which exercises are safe for me and how can I prevent falls or injuries?
- Should any changes be made to the medications I am taking?
- What annual screenings should someone my age and gender get?
- Are these symptoms I’m experiencing normal?
If you’re unsure of which questions to ask your doctor, start by thinking about any changes you’ve experienced since your last visit. Have you started a new medication? Have you experienced any pain or reduced mobility? Even if it seems minor, discuss it with your doctor.
Patient-provider communication technologies have become more popular and more widely used across the country. These technologies, often referred to as patient portals, allow patients to communicate directly with their provider through a secure website or phone app.
Though some people may be hesitant to handle medical-related information online, these portals can provide many benefits. Most patient portals allow you to view test results, schedule appointments, and even send messages directly to your doctor. Utilizing patient-provider communication technologies can help you better manage your healthcare by allowing you to communicate with your doctor and review notes from your previous visits more easily.
If you’re not already signed up for your patient portal, talk to your doctor. They can help you get started and show you how to access and use your portal.
Your medical insurance, whether you have Medicare or an employer group plan, plays an important part in making decisions regarding your health. You should take time to read over your coverage carefully, so you understand which services are covered and which aren’t.
Unfortunately, health insurance can be confusing, and Medicare is no different. Luckily, there are many resources available for those who want to apply for Medicare. There are many options for supplementing your Medicare coverage, including Medicare Advantage plans, Medicare Part D Prescription Drug plans, and Medicare Supplement plans. The Medicare & You handbook, available on Medicare.gov is a great resource for those who are new to the program and wanting to learn more.
Patient advocates are professionals who help you navigate the healthcare system. A patient advocate works directly with you to ensure your concerns are being heard, your questions are being answered, and you are getting the care and resources you need.
As an older adult, it can sometimes be difficult to advocate for yourself. A patient advocate can help offer support so you can get the information you need to make an informed decision about your health. Most hospitals have patient advocates on staff, but you can also hire independent patient advocates. The National Association of Healthcare Advocacy has resources available to help you find advocates in your area.
Have you ever felt like your healthcare concerns weren’t being heard or weren’t taken seriously? As an older adult, it’s more important than ever to have a primary care doctor that you feel comfortable with. When you’re comfortable discussing your health openly with your doctor, you’re more likely to catch issues early and start treatment quicker.
Finding a doctor who makes you feel comfortable can some time. If you have neighbors who are of similar age, you can ask if they have any recommendations based on their experiences. You can also search for providers online by name to see if they have reviews left by patients. Websites like HealthGrades.com and RateMDs.com share patient reviews for numerous healthcare providers. Be aware that some of these sites take paid advertisements from providers; these providers are often marked as “featured” or “sponsored”.
According to the FBI, millions of elderly Americans fall victim to some sort of fraud or scam. Since healthcare can be difficult to navigate, scammers try to use this to their advantage to commit fraud. Some of the biggest scams targeting older adults are Medicare scams. Scammers will call claiming to be from the government or Medicare and ask for money or your personal information.
As online pharmacies become more widely used, it’s important to keep an eye out for fake or bad pharmacies. Often these sites look legitimate but can be used to steal your information. You can contact your drug plan provider to see which trusted online pharmacies are in your plan’s network. You can also visit the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy’s Safe Online Pharmacies tool to check if an online pharmacy is safe.
Scammers often rely on people making quick decisions. Remember to always take things slowly and think things through. Whether you’re on the phone, or shopping online, take time to verify the identity and validity of the person or site you’re working with.