“Supporting this young man through that journey really emphasised to me the importance of developing a therapeutic relationship – that trust – with a patient, but also acknowledging that I can say things five times, and just because of the circumstances or the conditions of that person’s emotions, they may not hear anything I’ve said. That’s actually normal.” – Dr Nancy Huang.
Finding out that you have a chronic condition can be a life-changing moment. And it’s a moment that more of us are experiencing, with almost one in two Australians currently living with one or more chronic conditions, such as arthritis, cancer, cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
As challenging as this time is, you don’t have to navigate your new diagnosis in the dark. Here’s what the experts want you to know, so that you can be informed, empowered and supported to make the best choices for your health and wellbeing.
Give yourself time for the information to sink in
Don’t be surprised if you don’t remember anything your doctor has told you beyond the initial diagnosis. “It can be quite confronting being diagnosed with a serious or chronic condition and it’s normal that you might not be able to take in all the information,” says Dr Nancy Huang, Australian Unity’s Chief Medical Adviser for Independent and Assisted Living.
She recalls a time early on in her career in the late ’80s, during the height of the HIV epidemic, when one of her patients contracted the virus. With the patient experiencing a range of emotions – from disbelief and fear to anger – it took five consultations to go over the diagnosis, implications and what they needed to do to look after their health. It was an experience that laid the foundations of how Nancy would guide future patients through their own chronic conditions.
“Supporting this person through their journey really emphasised to me the importance of developing a therapeutic relationship – that trust – with a patient, but also acknowledging that I can say things five times, and just because of the circumstances or the conditions of that person’s emotions, they may not hear anything I’ve said,” says Nancy. “That’s actually normal.”
With this in mind, Nancy suggests booking a follow-up consultation as soon as possible. “I always advise people to come prepared with a list of questions. Because, even in the second or the third consultation, there are things that you will hear that might cause a bit of stress or an emotional reaction, and then you might forget what you had wanted to ask.”
Empower yourself to make informed decisions
Asking the right questions is especially important when you have to make decisions about tests, treatments and procedures. “The decisions can be quite complex and it can be hard when you’re in a doctor’s surgery to know exactly what to ask,” says Dr Jeannie Yoo, Clinical Director at Remedy Healthcare, Australian Unity’s health partner.
To make an informed decision, Jeannie recommends asking your doctor or healthcare provider these five questions, as outlined by Choosing Wisely Australia:
- Do I really need this test, treatment or procedure?
- What are the risks associated with it?
- Are there any other simpler or safer options to having that test, treatment or procedure?
- What will happen if I don't do anything?
- What are the costs associated with it?
“Having a structured series of questions makes it easier to gather the kind of information you need to make a really informed and balanced choice about what you need to do,” says Jeannie.
If you have health insurance, Rebecca Windsor, General Manager, Health Management (Health Insurance) at Australian Unity, adds: “It’s important to clarify which treatments will be hospital treatments and which are out of hospital. While extras cover pays benefits for things such as physiotherapy, optical and dental, generally health funds are not permitted to cover outpatient services.” These can include tests, procedures and consultations.
“If you need hospital treatment, ask your treating doctor if they participate in your health fund’s Gap Cover scheme and if they will undertake your treatment as part of this scheme. This will help limit your out-of-pocket costs,” says Rebecca.
If you decide to join health insurance or upgrade your cover after receiving a diagnosis, you might have to serve a 12-month waiting period before you can claim or are eligible for the higher benefits. But don’t be worried about declaring your health condition. “Everyone pays the same price for health cover irrespective of their health status or how much they claim. This keeps private health insurance affordable for all,” explains Rebecca. “In fact, telling us about your situation gives us an opportunity to ensure you maximise the benefits of your cover with features such as coaching programs and in-home hospital services.”
Create a trusted squad
If you want the best shot at managing your condition, you need the right people around you. Think of them as your “trusted squad” – a group of people you can go to for their expertise, emotional support or a combination of both. According to Jeannie, the best kind of support team includes a mix of family, close friends, and medical and allied health professionals.
“That’s where having a solid relationship with a GP comes in. And then, depending on your condition, you might also need to work with a nurse, pharmacist, or allied health professionals, such as a health coach,” says Jeannie.
“If lifestyle changes are important for managing your condition, then a health coach can support you to achieve those changes and manage your condition. When done well, health coaching can make the difference between a GP recommending you make a change and actually being able to incorporate that change into your life.”
If you feel like you don’t have that kind of relationship with your medical and allied health professionals, you have every right to look for another expert to get a second opinion. “Having the right team is about working with people that you feel comfortable with, communicate effectively with, and can build a relationship with over time,” says Jeannie. “You’re looking for someone who’s knowledgeable but who you can trust as well.”
As Rebecca says, it all comes back to you. “We want to empower you to be an active participant in your healthcare journey.”
Discovering you have been diagnosed with a chronic condition is life changing. While it can be a difficult situation, surrounding yourself with people you trust and arming yourself with questions and information can help you see things more clearly during this difficult time.
Disclaimer: Information provided in this article is not medical advice and you should consult with your healthcare practitioner. Australian Unity accepts no responsibility for the accuracy of any of the opinions, advice, representations or information contained in this publication. Readers should rely on their own advice and enquiries in making decisions affecting their own health, wellbeing or interest.
Remedy Healthcare Group Pty Limited and Australian Unity Health Limited are wholly owned subsidiaries of Australian Unity Limited.
An Australian Unity health partner, Remedy Healthcare provides targeted, solution-oriented healthcare that is based on clinically proven techniques. For more than 10 years, Remedy Healthcare has worked with more than 100,000 Australians – helping them to manage their health through caring, coaching, empowerment and support.