From purchasing a new car to finding the best deal on a hotel, Americans are comparison shoppers. According to a study by GE Capital, 81 percent of consumers conduct extensive online research before purchasing major items like appliances, electronics and furniture. Now more than ever, consumers are spending this same time and energy in a different type of online marketplace to make important decisions about their healthcare coverage.
Through the Affordable Care Act, more than three million Americans have purchased private coverage through HealthCare.gov and its state affiliates, and millions more were determined eligible for Medicaid.
February is Wise Healthcare Consumer Month, a time to empower Americans to take greater control of their healthcare at all stages of life. Beyond enrolling in a healthcare plan, each doctor visit, treatment and medication presents new options and responsibilities on behalf of the provider and the patient. According to the American Institute for Preventive Medicine, doing research before selecting medical services can lower risk for complications, reduce costs and improve the quality of care. Increasingly, the time we spend online researching a new computer or car will begin to match the time we spend exploring our healthcare options.
Part of being an informed consumer is maintaining control over our medical treatments if we can no longer communicate our wishes for ourselves. Advance directives are free, legal documents that name someone to speak on your behalf if you are no longer able, and specify the treatments you would or would not want to receive. The American Journal of Public Health found that while more than 60 percent of individuals over the age of 18 want their end-of life wishes to be respected, only one-third of them had completed advance directives.
This month, take steps to become a wiser healthcare consumer. Understand what is covered by your health insurance plan, and make the most of each visit with your physician by preparing questions and clarifying any information you do not understand about a treatment or medication. If you do not have an advance directive, now is a good time to start the conversation with your loved ones and physician, before a crisis situation. As healthcare providers, we owe this knowledge to the patients and families we serve. As consumers, we owe it to ourselves and to our loved ones to be our best medical advocates.
Peggy Richardson is the Executive Director of Crossroads Hospice in Dayton and guest columnist.