Category Archives: Series

Terms Jumble

Long View: Don’t Let Lingo Keep You from the Care You Need

When I was (considerably) younger, I read that a concert I wanted to attend was “SRO.” I was certain that meant “Sold Right Out,” and there was no way we could go. I was disappointed, but hey, you can’t win them all. Years later a friend told me another show was “SRO,” and I only then found out it meant “Standing Room Only.” My misunderstanding became the source of much merriment.

Industry-specific terms, acronyms and lingo are common in almost every business. I know the health insurance business has a lot, but have you ever heard two electricians talk? What about computer repair technicians? It’s all foreign to me.

Terminology, acronyms, and lingo are simply shortcuts for information-sharing between people in the same business. They are not meant to exclude others, but they do. The difference between the terms “copayment” and “coinsurance” can seem small, unless you are the person paying the bill. So, what can we insiders do to lessen the impact and be more inclusive?

About two years ago, Health Alliance started an internal plain language push. We took a close look at our written materials—brochures, guidebooks, letters, our website, and more—and realized we could make things easier to understand. We simplify or explain industry lingo, without losing the important information.

If you’re on the receiving end of lingo, stop and ask for clarification. If that is not possible, jot down a note so you can follow up on your own. This is especially important with your health care. Make sure you understand what your doctors tell you. They are insiders to the medical world, so they might not realize you need more explanation. Always ask questions if you’re confused. Your doctor will appreciate you taking the time to make sure you understand so you can take good care of yourself.

I am sure some of you are frightened to know I am learning how to text on my smartphone. Many of you are familiar with this digital language and its acronyms and lingo, but it’s new to me. Don’t worry, I was pointedly told “LOL” doesn’t mean “lots of love.” LAL (Live and Learn).

(Give this word search on commonly used insurance terms and their definitions a try!)

Up-Serving Together

Vantage Point: Up-Serving is a Win-Win

Most people have heard of up-selling, but what about up-serving? Up-serving is doing more for people than they expect. As the community liaison for Health Alliance Medicare, I have been fortunate to work with many people who continually go above and beyond to improve our communities.

I am nearing my one-year anniversary at Health Alliance Medicare and have been thinking of all the amazing things we’ve accomplished together. I’m so thankful for the chance to work together and enhance the lives of North Central Washington seniors, be it holding a health fair, promoting education, providing resources, or volunteering.

The fun social activities inspire me, like being invited to two-step and waltz at the Okanogan Senior Center dance or attending Friday’s senior coffee and chat at the Wellness Place. How nice to have no agenda except to gather and enjoy each other’s company! There I met Lois, who showed me the scars she still has from floating down the Wenatchee River on an inner tube, and 92-year-old Don, who randomly breaks out in song.

I have met and worked with so many wonderful people, including one of our members who oversees the Cashmere museum. When he saw what the combined spirit of a community could accomplish, he could not help but volunteer.

Recently Les Schwab had a “Do the Right Thing” contest, and I nominated a local dentist. When he heard one of our members needed dental care but couldn’t afford it, he graciously volunteered his services. Upon winning the monetary award, the dentist then paid it forward to community causes he supports.

At Health Alliance Medicare we strive to up-serve by going above and beyond for our members.

Our homey Fifth Street office in Wenatchee is purposeful in its role to provide truly local customer service, but also personal as our members can come in to get face-to-face help. Per one of our members, “It is just reassuring to know it is there.”

I want to personally say thank you for allowing me to partner in the ideas, energies, and resources to improve the communities we serve. I am excited to see what our continued collaboration can accomplish. When we up-serve, we all win.

Cleaning Meds Out of the Cabinet

Long View: Leave Prescribing to the Pros – Don’t Mix Your Meds!

I used to visit my aunt and uncle in Missouri whenever I got the chance. They were older but still lived on their own. My uncle Bill took a lot of medicine, as is often the case with a 90-year-old. The problem was my aunt, his caregiver, felt she knew better than his doctor.

She would cut his pills in half because she thought they were making him “groggy.” She also would “prescribe” outdated meds. I found my aunt’s secret stash in a shoe box in the closet.

Both of them also took over-the-counter meds … to keep their joints limber, eyesight sharp and other things she was sure would enhance their golden years. Her approach was dangerous, but I could only help while I was there.

So, what can a caregiver do?

Brad Berberet, acting director of the Health Alliance Pharmacy Department, shared this advice.

“Many people know different drugs can interact with each other, causing unexpected side effects,” he said. “However, most people forget that interactions can occur between prescribed medications and over-the-counter (OTC) medications and herbal supplements.  Patients should let their doctor and their pharmacist know about all OTC and herbal supplements they are taking, especially when they start a new medicine.”

Our chief medical officer, Dr. Robert Parker, shared similar advice.

“When you take medication exactly as prescribed, your doctor can better monitor you for side effects,” he said. “It’s important to be honest with your doctor to assure you have the best chance of a positive, not harmful, impact to yourself or those you love.”

You can help your loved ones get rid of old medicine. Don’t just flush them. Check for places that dispose of drugs safely, like your pharmacy or hospital. Your local senior center may have suggestions.

My PCP does a medicine review every time I have an appointment. Just keeping a list of how much medicine you take and when helps your doctor. You can ask your doctor to make changes to your list so it stays current.

While I’m sure my aunt had the best intentions, her approach to medicine was dangerous. Be sure to talk with your doctor or pharmacist before taking any new medicine, prescription or over-the-counter. Not only will you avoid harmful interactions, but you will probably feel better, too.

Balancing Daily Tasks with Dementia

Vantage Point: Summer Activity Opens Eyes, Prompts Compassion

I love all the fun activities that come with summer—festivals, parades, vacations, theme parks, and backyard barbecues. One of my recent summer activities, however, was unlike any I’ve ever done before, and the profound experience will resonate with me for the rest of my life.

I had the opportunity to watch a video of the Virtual Dementia Tour®, compliments of Assured Home Health and Hospice in Moses Lake. The tour gives family members and professional caregivers the chance to experience (as closely as possible) the physical, mental, and emotional challenges people with dementia face every day.

Before the tour, the group takes a short pretest. One of the questions is, “Do you think people with dementia are justified in their actions?” The answer choices are “yes,” “no” and “somewhat.” Most people answer “somewhat.”

After the pretest, the activity alters the participants’ mental and physical abilities when they put on these items.

  • Goggles that restrict their vision, as if they have macular degeneration
  • Headphones with garbled or random background noises, like people with mental disorders experience
  • Gloves with the fingers taped together and with popcorn kernels in the fingertips, and shoes with popcorn kernels in the toes, to represent neuropathy and arthritis

The group then goes to another room. Organizers give participants five everyday tasks, like sorting laundry and setting the table, to complete without help in a certain time frame.

Watching the people go through the experience made me think of being in a carnival maze, where you have a warped sense of bearings, balance, and judgment.

Most participants find the experience eye-opening. Even if they thought they knew what to expect, many didn’t anticipate bursting into tears of frustration or falling on the ground in confusion. Many change their pretest answer about behavior being justified from “somewhat” to “yes” in the post-test.

If you have a loved one with dementia or are a caregiver, I suggest you take the Virtual Dementia Tour. If you live in Grant County and want to sign up for a tour through Assured Home Health and Hospice, please call Julie Johnson at 509-766-2580 or Terri Riley-Brown at 509-765-1856.

ABC’s Nightline featured a powerful story about the Virtual Dementia Tour.  If you don’t take the tour, you can still see what the experience is like by watching this clip.

I hope you make fun memories with family and friends this summer. I also hope you take time to either watch the Nightline clip or sign up for the Virtual Dementia Tour so we can all increase our understanding and compassion for people with dementia.

Fighting Hunger Through Food

Long View: Solving Hunger One Bite at a Time

It seems I might be a little fixated on food. A number of friends and family members seem to think I live mealtime to mealtime, which may explain my recent weight gain. As many of us enjoy Central Illinois’ bounty, it’s important to remember many of our neighbors are not so lucky.

In Illinois, we are fortunate to have access to food banks across the state. Julie Melton is the director of Marketing and Development at the Eastern Illinois Foodbank (EIF). They distribute millions of pounds of food to over 100,000 individuals across their network of more than 220 sites. She told me, “Based on our Hunger in America Study, a full third of the seniors in the Eastern Illinois Foodbank’s service area experience food insecurity rates of 15 percent to 41 percent. In some areas, more than 42 percent of seniors are food insecure, which is among the highest rates of senior hunger in Illinois.”

You can help fight food insecurity, which means someone doesn’t have reliable access to nutritious, affordable food.

“Every $1 donation can buy $10 worth of food or provide 6 meals for neighbors in our community,” Melton said.

Jim Hires, executive director at the EIF, said, “Older American food insecurity is a growing problem. Addressing senior hunger has become an increasingly major concern and focus across the nation, and especially in our 14-county region. The Eastern Illinois Foodbank and our agency partners are committing more of our resources to this issue in the coming months and long term.”

Donating and volunteering at your local food pantry or soup kitchen are better ways to give. Your nearest food bank will be thankful for any support you offer. Search for one nearby at FeedingIllinois.org.

Solving hunger won’t happen overnight. But we can all help one small bite at a time. There are people in all of our communities who don’t have enough to eat. After seeing these statistics, I am more thankful for my food. I bet you will be, too.

Planning for All Stages of Life

Vantage Point: Tackling the Tough Subjects

My Mom tries to have this conversation with me that starts, “Shannon, if something bad happens…”

I usually cut her off. “Mom I am not ready to talk about this yet; we have time.”

The truth is if something unforeseen happens, I am not clear on her wishes.

There are many reasons any of us may need help with caring for our personal, financial, and health needs. The most common are part of the aging process. Estate planning, durable power of attorney, trustees, living wills, and guardianship all sound daunting, but their true purpose is to find the best means to care for those in need. This is possible by planning ahead now.

A health care durable power of attorney can be any person 18 or older who you trust to make health care decisions for you.  Anyone taking on the role of power of attorney, trustee, or guardian (whether they be a family member, a professional, or court-appointed) should be a good communicator and have the loyalty and commitment to follow your wishes to the best of their ability.

An estate planner can help you and those close to you understand important information, but can be expensive. Aging and Adult Care offices of Central Washington has a living will kit called “Five Wishes,” which is a legal way to document who you want to take care of you, what kind of medical treatment you want, how comfortable you want to be, how you want to be treated, and what you want your loved ones to know. That is a great option for making your wishes known.

At Health Alliance Medicare, we work hard to try to take good care of our member’s physical and mental health to ensure they have the most graceful golden years possible.  We also encourage you to think ahead to make future health care decisions that are in your best interest. This includes tackling the tough subjects, such as end of life care.  From what I have learned the topic, though hard to discuss, is too important put off.

I am going to start by asking, “Mom, just in case something bad happens…what are your wishes?”

Who Can You Call? 2-1-1

Long View: Who You Gonna Call? Think Three Little Numbers

I have a good friend at Carle who seems to have all the answers. Let’s call her Sue. Sue is a great resource for me any time I have a question about Carle. She knows the department heads, where the various offices are and how things really work. She is a seasoned and respected contact for me (and many others, I am sure). It makes me wonder where average Joes can turn when they need information and resources.

It turns out there is a place to call – 2-1-1.

The program in Central Illinois is run by PATH, Inc. (Providing Access to Help), which provides services for seniors, people who are homeless and people in need of all ages. Their offices are located in beautiful Bloomington. The PATH website describes the 2-1-1 system this way: “United Way 2-1-1 is for times of crisis, as well as for everyday needs. 2-1-1 call specialists are available 24/7 to help individuals locate health and human services in their area—from mortgage, rent, and utility assistance to food, clothing, emergency shelter, counseling, and much more.”

I spoke to Jennifer Nettleton at PATH. She is the 2-1-1/Crisis Services program manager. Many times when we need help, we need it fast.

Nettleton told me, “2-1-1 helps stop the run-around between social service agencies. Rather than calling every agency in the phone book to find out if they have the services you need, you can now call one place to help get you that information.”

Funding for the program is provided in part by United Way organizations around the state. Our local service area covers 12 counties and one city with another 20 in the pipeline. Many other states have this program in place, so Illinois is making up for lost time.

Find out more about the program. I think many people in need, perhaps some of them Health Alliance Medicare members, will be comforted to know a resource is available 24/7. Of course I could just give Sue’s phone number to everyone, but I fear she might not be my friend anymore.