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Kimberly Krautter Headshot

How to Navigate Health Care in Spite of the Reform Debate

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As the new year dawns, a new Congress is about to be installed, and America is bracing for the next mosh-pit battle over whether to repeal the pallid health care reform that was achieved. If one is to believe the propaganda, at issue is who is in control of your health care. In truth, that person was and will be you. The question is how will the draconian system be stacked against you.

The stark reality for every living, breathing American is that, when it comes to individual care, no matter which way the politicians decide about who is going to pay for healthcare, you will still have to deal with a doctor, his staff, the hospital, pharmaceutical options, and fight your coverage battles. Despite the much ballyhooed public opinion polls to the contrary, only healthy people are happy with their health care. Oh, but how their tune changes when they are faced with a serious illness and the often sisyphean task of challenging a doctor's recommendation or a hospital's procedures or getting the insurance coverage for which they dutifully paid.

So what is a person to do? Voting one way or another doesn't get the doctor bills paid. Protesting the president with angry signs doesn't ensure a good diagnosis or treatment recommendation. Sure there's information on the Internet, but there's actually too much information on the Internet, and how can we separate the good information from the bad?

Fortunately, there is a map. A politically agnostic, handy guide that literally maps out how to address every medical and health care situation. It provides dozens of real world examples that every patient will recognize. It's a purse-sized paperback book titled The Empowered Patient.

Fox News fanatics will no doubt chafe, but the book is written by CNN's senior medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen. Again, to press that issue is to miss the point: Do you want to get the best health care or not? It was written in reaction to a deeply personal experience she had after delivering a baby.

Cohen dares to demonstrate that she is just like the rest of us. She illustrates how the average person typically surrenders to the medical community like they are gods or simply loses voice against the daunting bureaucracy of the medical Olympus. It turns out that experience became a big driver behind Cohen's her pursuit of a book that helps patients and care givers bring the medical system to heel.

Like most people, I usually skip the author's forward to get to the good stuff, but this time I started there. I have to admit, I nearly threw the book across the room in reaction to the horrifying story Cohen shared. Here is a woman with a Masters in Public Health and a not-insubstantial network media position who was rendered sobbing and powerless to prevent a nurse from administering a painful spinal tap on her premature baby girl even though the doctor said it was unnecessary.

Simply stated, Cohen's book, The Empowered Patient, is the handy how-to guide that will help every person navigate through to get the best care at the best price. As aptly described by the publisher's notes on any booksellers website, "Cohen takes readers from inpatient to outpatient and everywhere in between." And there is something for everyone. If you like tips and lists - she's got tips and lists. If you need industry studies, she's got those too. If you like patient stories - there are loads of personal, inspiring, and relevant stories -- even a few tantalizing celebrity recollections. There are even inside scoops from doctors and other medical professionals.

Cohen gives us permission to be bad patients, how to challenge the doctors and make sure you're not getting hoodwinked by the latest medical marketing. She also tells us how to effectively use the Internet to gain knowledge and leverage while avoiding "cyber-chondria."

In an era when more of us have to participate in the primary care of our aging parents and grandparents, Cohen teaches us how to fire a doctor, get cheap but quality drugs and escape the hospital without becoming one of the 98,000 per year who become victims of deadly medical mistakes.

Last August when Ms. Cohen approached me about her book, we talked about the political implications of her work in light of the once and future battles on Capitol Hill. I have since decided that this is far bigger than politics. People need real solutions to the very real problems of the U.S healthcare system, and thank goodness this book is available.

I can't think of a better use for the gift cards I received in my Christmas stocking. I'm going to buy a copy for all of the people I care about.