I am usually fascinated whenever I listen to my friend complaining about her last experience at our local hospital. You would think she will never set her feet in that hospital again. But, every time she visits the hospital for various reasons, her list of complaints only keeps on growing.
In the past three weeks, we looked at different health-seeking habits for different genders and age groups. We looked at factors that determine decision-making to access health services, barriers, and facilitating factors. Today, we shall Bridge the Health Gap by looking at different perspectives that can optimize health-seeking Habits. We shall look at personal attributes, health facilities perspectives, and lastly, we shall look at possible policy considerations.
Self-advocacy. In every court of law, an advocate is the most important person as they represent the welfare of the accused person. In health care, like a court of law, patients need advocates too. Unfortunately, there are no lawyers to accompany the patient to the hospital. As such, the patient must represent their case to the health care provider to influence the decision-making process of the disease. The health provider relies on your description of the symptoms to make a clinical impression. Your description of the illness will give directions on how the doctor will proceed and conduct further investigation before he can finally affirms your diagnosis and initiate medical treatment.
To comprehensively represent your health needs, the following points are important to note;
- Conduct a thorough background check on symptoms you are experiencing to know the possible disease inflicting your health. Most health websites will have information regarding your symptoms. This way, you can actively interact with your health care provider by asking relevant questions regarding the illness and treatment options and benefits.
- Present your problem to the health provider as best as it is possible. I will give an experience here. During my years in training, we worked in the Out-patient Department. Most patients could not out rightly explain the symptoms well but would beat-about-the-bush, hoping that the health provider would understand them. Patients who had sexually transmitted diseases were the main culprits. It would take time and effort to piece together the scanty and vague information to make a diagnosis. This point emphasizes the importance of stating your problem in a language that the provider will understand. In medicine, there are no gray areas.
- Never misrepresent yourself through inappropriate information concerning your health. I will give another example. Patients are required to furnish the health care provider with past medical history. However, you will find that patients never provide correct information about their past illnesses. For example, a doctor asking about family medical history, is interested in assessing any significant disease that run in the family and may have an impact in your health. Patients with family history of chronic diseases are the most elusive.
Be a Consumer of Health Information. Health literacy is the ability to obtain, process, communicate, understand, and use health information to improve one’s well-being. It is a set of skills required to consume health information and make a decision concerning your health. It is also the ability that helps communicate with a health care provider and understand what they communicate regarding your health.
Health literacy is not the confine of the health providers alone but a collaborative engagement in the care planning. Health information builds self-efficacy, skills required to navigate ill-health. It pertains to understanding the disease, disease process, complications, and importance of medication and other therapeutic measures.
Embraces preventive health services. Preventive health services are routine health care practices that includes disease screening, medical check-ups, and counseling. Ample evidence pinpoints the cost-effectiveness of preventive health services by being more proactive in preventing the onset of diseases or curbing the progression of chronic illnesses. Some preventive health services include annual medical examination, mammogram for breast examination, cervical screening, prostate screening, and colonoscopy screening. Tests designed to detect if the body part is at risk of a particular disease.
Enlist medical insurance. Health insurance is a plan of care that caters to the medical expenditure of an insured person. There are two types of medical insurance; government-supported medical insurance and private medical insurers. The importance of a medical insurance plan is to provide caution during illness or injury against unexpected high medical bills. Medical insurance promotes health-seeking habits by eliminating the need to have available funds at the point of care, thus easing the cost of immediate care.
Have an Emergency Medical Kitty. An emergency medical fund caters to other medical-related costs not covered by the insurance. Emergency funds take care of other expenditures related to seeking care like transportation. When an emergency fund is not available, delay seeking care may occur. This delay can worsen the illness and increase the risks of complications and disabilities.
Prioritize formal education. Education is a social determinant of health. Education builds skills, imparts knowledge, enhances social interactions, thereby increasing awareness leading to improved productivity, creativity, and self-governing. Education can transit an individual from a lower social standing to higher levels impacting the health status in the process. An upward move in social strata is associated with improved health and better health-seeking habits. On the other hand, low academic qualification limits job opportunities leading to poor social status, hardships, increased ill-health, and poor health-seeking habits.
Overcome cultural barriers and gender stereotypes. Culture is defined as the way of life of a people and it has influence on health-seeking habits. In our past articles, we went through barriers to health-seeking habits for men, women and youth. Male machoism was the main hindrance to seeking care among men while lack of autonomy afflicted most women. Where women lack the autonomy and independence to seek care, the lack of resources aggravates their vulnerability and dependence on male as the decision-maker who may not be very conversant with women health needs. Consequently, public health literacy has the capacity to build on health knowledge and dispels cultural barriers that limit health-seeking habits among men, women and the youth.
Build a resilient social support system. A family that candidly discusses health issues is likely to encourage adolescents and young adults to seek medical attention whenever they are sick. Showing concern for the welfare of children helps build their confidence, a factor that can enhance health-seeking habits. Having a family is a good motivation to seek health care.A supportive woman has a positive influence on a man’s health-seeking behavior. Women as mothers, wives, and female partners can all provide that support. Moreover, being a good example can increase health-seeking habits of other family members. The urge to nurture children, see them grow up and become independent individuals in society enforce parents to take care of their health. Therefore, a parent will likely seek health care whenever they are ill because they want to be well and continue taking care of their children.
Health Facility Perspectives
Health-seeking habits are not build in isolation and health care facilities have a critical role to play. Therefore, to optimize health seeking habits, health facilities must;
Foster credible health services. High-quality health services offered cost-effectively are pre-requisites for prompt health-seeking. Every person seeking health care wants to know that services offered are credible. Incidences of medical malpractice raise a public outcry, and the health facility loses its rating among the recipient of care. Maintaining a high-quality health service attracts a good clientele base.
View patients as partners in service delivery. Change the long-held culture of patients as passive recipients of care to active participants. Today, the patient is enlightened and evaluates how well their welfare is prioritized. Patients will only go where they feel that the services provided have value for their money.
Embrace positive attitude. Every patient that seeks health care should be viewed more as a customer than a needy person looking for sympathy. Health care providers should be courteous, and instill confidence in those seeking care. The negative attitude associated with most health providers is a deterrent to health seeking and must be abhorred.
Optimize patients’ time. Time is Money, the saying goes. There is a cost to everything and time spent seeking health care accounts too. A health facility that recognizes the opportunity cost of every minute a patient spends at a health facility seeking care will optimize patient’s time, fast-track their care, and ensure that services provided are of a high standard.
To continuously promote health seeking habits of a nation, governments must hold themselves accountable by;
- Promoting Public Health Research. Funding research work that investigates viable ways that low-income countries can increase uptake of the Universal Health Care (UHC) among the low social economic and can optimize health-seeking habits by reducing impoverishment associated with out-of-pocket payment.
- Increasing attention to neglected diseases. Increase health drive to overcome the impact of neglected and debilitating diseases. Substantial efforts focus on communicable and non-communicable diseases and have been successful. However, some neglected illnesses afflict a critical mass of the population lowering their quality of life and productivity. Seeking them out and availing treatment is one-way countries can enhance their economic growth.
- Mainstream Public Health Education. Mainstreaming public health literacy in all aspects of development by optimizing promotive and preventive health services. Most diseases afflicting humanity are preventable; promoting better lifestyle choices and emphasizing on disease prevention are cost-effective strategies.