If you are in healthcare, these are troubling times. Regardless of your politics, uncertainty is unsettling and that is an understatement these days. No one knows what the next minute or hour will bring for changes in federal healthcare policy. A quick scan of the headlines from just one day of Kaiser Health News illustrates the choppy waters we are in:
- Five Quick Ways HHS Secretary Tom Price Could Change The Course Of Health Policy
- ‘Massive Confusion’ Abounds For Insurers As GOP Wavers On Obamacare Redo
- Political Turmoil Aside, 12.2 Million Enrolled In Coverage Under Health Law This Year
- Democrats Using Report Of Devastating Job Losses From ‘Repeal’ To Put Heat On GOP
- As Protesters Storm Town Halls, Some GOP Lawmakers Hunker Down, But One Stands His Ground
- As House Republicans Step Up Efforts To Revamp Medicaid, GOP Senators Meet About Concerns
Whew. It’s hard to tell if you need to fasten your seatbelt of jump ship after reading a list like that. Unfortunately, It’s not going to end anytime soon. Administrators of hospitals have no idea if grants, funding, and Medicaid programs are going to stay in place, even as they spend money on them. Health plans are pulling out of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) exchange in some states and stalling expanded participation in others. Patients don’t know if their ACA coverage is going to be pulled from them, or cost exponentially more. It’s enough to require a national prescription for anti-anxiety medication.
The question central to your practice is this; How do you remain calm and practice medicine in an effective, reassuring manner while all the world reverberates around you? After all, there are no concrete answers to the questions you and your patients have about the precariousness of present or future days.
However, you may already know how to combat the anxiety you and your patients feel. Remember that you are able to deal with uncertainty in diagnoses every day. You decipher clinical cues from confused and anxious patients. In the midst of uncertainty, you are able to ferret out the basic framework of a diagnosis or seek more information. That is the same strategy that you must use to the make sense out of the current fog that has descended over federal healthcare policy. Rely on your well-practiced common sense and humanity.
Here are some suggestions on how to calm yourself and your nervous patients.
Commiserate: When a patient expresses worry about the potential loss of their insurance coverage, commiserate with them. Tell them you share their worries and that right now there are no answers. Then, reassure them that their care will continue and that the two of you will work together to make them feel better. Remind them that whether or not changes come, there is not much that the two of you can do about at this moment in time. What they can do is follow your instructions and try to get better. This may reassure your patient, and it may make you feel better and more purposeful.
Console: Consoling patients is probably already part of your day. People want to be listened to and you play an important role. If patients are scared that they may not be able to afford care at some point in the future, console them. Remind them that they are with you now and that the two of you can do good work together.
Calm: Calming yourself and your patient is perhaps the most important thing you can do. Before you begin the day, a bit of meditation, yoga or deep breathing exercises will begin to release anxiety and prepare you for practice. Use this as an example with your patients. When they relate their anxiety, you can say “Well when I feel that way I…”. You can serve as a healer and a good role model.
Just the facts ma’am: Get the facts on the situation at your hospital. Attend department and administration meetings. Ask the hard questions and if there are no answers, request that leaders get back to you when they have them. As a practicing physician, you deserve to operate on as much as information as possible. These days, the most important information may be about the future of the hospital.
Become an advocate: No one says you have to sit back and ride the storm. You can become an advocate in whatever way best suits your schedule. Make sure your voice and your opinions are heard by calling or writing your representatives and senators. Given the potential for enormous disruption in the healthcare industry, your voice is one of the most important to be heard.