Health Affairs journal features a narrative essay by Elizabeth Piatt, assistant professor of sociology, in its February issue. Piatt’s essay makes the case that access isn’t the only problem with today’s health care system. Knowledge and attitudes must also be addressed, as she learned when she helped her sister Veronika, who is on Medicaid, seek treatment for a tooth infection back in 2010.
Piatt said it took four doctors, four health care facilities, nine months and 160 miles of driving before doctors could remove the infected roots of her sister’s tooth. She explains the journey in Navigating Veronika: How Access, Knowledge, And Attitudes Shaped My Sister’s Care, available to read online, or download and listen to in podcast form.
The process got Piatt thinking about how to solve the many roadblocks she and her sister encountered throughout the ordeal.
“It seems the health care system is organized in a way that expects patients to be advocates for themselves and to know the right questions to ask of the right people,” she writes in the essay. “This way of conducting the business of medicine limits the flow of vital information, especially to patients with limited education and an inability to access information resources.”
Piatt argues that “patient navigators,” professionals that help patients navigate a complex health care system, may be a valuable resource for Medicaid patients.
“They originated in cancer care as a way to help cancer patients manage all they have to manage while they’re in treatment,” Piatt said. “Because they’ve been so successful in that area of medicine, they’re becoming popular in other areas of medicine, including primary care. If patients are having troubles with referrals, they help make those connections, and they follow up with them about treatment and remind them about appointments.”
Piatt’s essay was originally presented at the Association of Black Sociologists Annual Conference in Las Vegas in 2011. This semester, Piatt is teaching Intro to Sociology and the first year seminar Madness in the Media.
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