Have you ever gone to the doctor and had to repeat a test because they didn’t have the results on hand?
Do you ever feel that your doctors don’t talk to each other? Or that no one doctor knows all of the medications you’re taking and why?
These kinds of things happen frequently. And they not only lead to higher costs: They can also be dangerous.
Our health care system is complicated, and it can be overwhelming to navigate for anyone. When doctors prescribe lots of different medications or tests, it can be difficult to keep track of it all, especially since doctors often don’t talk to each other or work together.
Poor communication and failure to coordinate care result in medication errors, unnecessary or repetitive diagnostic tests, and preventable emergency room visits or hospitalizations more often than we realize.
These errors and unnecessary tests don’t just hurt us and our loved ones. They also contrib-ute to unnecessary health spending. Some researchers have estimated that inadequate care coordination resulted in $25-40 billion in wasteful spending in 2011 through complica-tions that could have been avoided and hospital readmissions that should not have happened.
Thankfully, this is starting to change. The Affordable Care Act (the health care law) does a lot to promote changes that strengthen care coordination.
So, what is care coordination? Essentially, care coordination means that a health care team works together to ensure that your family’s health care needs are met and that the right care is being delivered in the right place, at the right time, and by the right person.
It means that your doctors work with you and your family to identify your needs, priorities, and goals for different treatment plans. It means that your health care providers will help you figure out what’s preventing you from following a course of treatment — maybe you can’t afford your prescriptions — and then will work with you to find a way around those barriers.
It means that all of your doctors will know if you are admitted to the hospital or if one doctor changes one of your medications. It means if one doctor orders an x-ray, another doctor can easily get that x-ray instead of ordering that it be done again. It means fewer mistakes and, ultimately, better health.
These changes will not happen overnight, but doctors and health care systems are starting to respond. Some of your doctors might form an Accountable Care Organization (ACO), which is designed to help your doctors work together to give you a more coordinated, patient-centered experience.
If you have traditional Medicare and your doctor decides to coordinate care through this program, you will be notified, either in person or by mail. You can read more about Medicare ACOs on the medicare.gov website: Use the search box at the top to search for “ACOs” or for the “Medicare and You handbook.”
There are also things you can do to help your providers do a better job of coordinating your care. The Partnership for Healthcare Excellence has created a checklist you can use to prepare for your doctor appointments; it can be found online at www.partnershipforhealthcare.org/ documents/PrepareforDrAppt.pdf.
Bringing someone else with you to all of your doctor appointments can help you remember what you talked about during the appointment. Give your doctors a list of all the medications you are currently taking and of the different health care providers you see, even homeopathic or other nontraditional providers.
Note the last time you saw each provider or were hospitalized. And, if you ever feel that your care may not be as coor-dinated as it should be, bring up your concern with your doctor. It’s always better to be safe than sorry, so don’t be afraid to speak up.
Ron Pollack is executive director of Families USA.