Healthcare Decisions- Lessons from Covid
This post was contributed by guest writer Alicia Blair
In Carnegie Mellon University’s insights on making decisions in a COVID-19 world, researchers note that the pandemic has posed difficult but interdependent decision-making challenges for professionals and individuals alike. Professionals need to base decisions on relevant health protocols, such as when to keep establishments open. On the other hand, individuals have to make choices about whether or not a risk is worth taking when Covid case numbers are high, such as going to a hospital for treatment or to a restaurant for dinner. The pandemic clearly showed how people can make vastly different decisions when faced with a healthcare crisis based on the information they use and their own risk assessment.
On an individual level, the dilemmas we faced in the pandemic can provide a framework for decision-making, for example, when we receive an unfavorable diagnosis or when we need to make a choice for someone else. In this article, we’ll take a look at some of the tips for making better health-related choices during an emergency.
When people are uncertain about what’s going to happen, we have a tendency to choose evidence that confirms our existing beliefs. We may look at a narrower range of information, at the expense of alternative (but potentially wiser) perspectives and opinions. This reliance on our initial instincts may not lead us to the best outcome. The good news is that there are plenty of credible information sources you can turn to, as many national advocacy groups publish free research online.
As we mentioned in our post on ‘When Serious Illness Strikes’, the downside to increased access for information is that we have to be wary of what we learn from Dr. Google, as it can come from publishers with a hidden agenda. Moreover, it’s difficult to know what information is relevant or appropriate for your unique case without consulting a health professional. It’s always a good idea to check with a doctor first.
Look at the long-term
When a crisis strikes, we focus on the immediate circumstances, sometimes without thinking of what might come next. Maryville University’s feature on healthcare crisis management points out that mental healthcare challenges often follow crises. Around 32% of Americans claim they suffered with anxiety or depression due to the pandemic. Various emergencies like earthquakes, floods, or other natural disasters around the globe have impacts that can stay with us for a very long time. For an individual example, choosing to undergo an operation before exhausting all other options can lead to trauma and secondary stressors like financial difficulties.
Humans have a “present bias” where we tend to value immediate returns and benefits. However, making decisions based on our prospects in the here-and-now may lead to either overly pessimistic or optimistic short term decisions. The trick to surviving a medical crisis is a balanced, resilient approach. Take stock of where you are right now — physically, mentally, emotionally, and financially — then try to imagine where certain choices can take you in the future.
Take a breather
It may seem counterintuitive to pause when things are urgent, but research tells us that our emotions can affect our decision-making process — and we’re often unaware of it. For instance, we’re prone to less thoughtful analysis when we’re angry. We might not stop to ask if what we’re doing is right, or if we have the right information. Interestingly, sadness can make us think more deeply and process information in a systematic way, but it can also trigger poor financial choices – like the willingness to pay higher prices to buy something immediately.
Allow yourself to step back a bit. It’s also important to take a breath, literally. The Physiologist Magazine’s write-up on deep breathing found that our breathing rhythm helps synchronize brain activity in regions associated with cognitive and emotional functions. So when we disrupt our breathing, we affect the signal processing in those key areas. Before you make any decision, spare some time for slow, deep breathing to relax your mind.
Finally, share the burden of decision-making with health professionals, who can empower you to choose treatment based on the best available evidence aligned with your preferences and values. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed and alone when facing a medical crisis, but Patient Navigator LLC is here to help. Contact us today to learn more.
Author: Alicia Blair