Navigating the Health Care System

Navigating the Health Care System

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June 11 2013 20130611

Not Just the Baby Blues: Screening Can Help Address Postpartum Depression

If you know someone who's expecting a baby this summer, you have plenty of company. More babies are born in July, August, and September than in any other months of the year, according to 2010 Federal data [PDF File]. A new baby brings joy and excitement. But for some women, it can also bring on the start of serious depression. Known as postpartum depression, this condition often starts shortly after a woman gives birth, but it can also begin up to a year later. Signs of postpartum depression... Read more

May 10 2013 20130510

Hopeful Signs on a Long Road to a Better Health System

If you've ever thought that your experience with the health care system–good or bad–is very different from someone else's, you're not alone.A new set of reports from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) show that the goal of safe, high-quality care is not within reach for all Americans. The 2012 National Healthcare Quality Report and National Healthcare Disparities Report were released this month.Based on data collected from 2002 to 2009, the reports... Read more

April 9 2013 20130409

Health Law at Three Years Highlights Coverage, Cost, and Quality Improvements

When the Affordable Care Act was signed into law 3 years ago, many Americans paid attention to popular features like letting young adults stay on their parents' health insurance until age 26 or closing the "donut hole" gap for Medicare prescription drugs.These portions of the health care law help a lot of people.As of December 2011, 3.1 million more young adults had health insurance coverage as a direct result of the law, according to a national survey from the U.S. Department of... Read more

March 5 2013 20130305

New Primary Care Focus Helps Patients Take Better Care of Themselves

Starting new behaviors to improve our health can be a challenge. Too often, our health care system doesn't help us learn the skills we need to stay healthy.Take the example of Alex, a 60-year-old man who just learned he has Type 2 diabetes.He must watch his diet and get regular exercise. He will need to visit his doctor to prevent problems with his eyes, feet, and kidneys, which can be affected by this disease. Alex will also need to check his blood sugar levels and he may need daily pills... Read more

February 5 2013 20130205

New Tools Help Health Providers Reduce Patients' Risk of Falls

For older adults, falls are serious, whether they take place in the home or in a health care setting.More than one-third of adults over age 65 fall each year. Falls can cause bone fractures, disability, and even death. Among people 75 and older, falls are far more likely to cause admissions into a long-term care facility than for adults 10 years younger, Federal data show.An estimated 500,000 falls  happen each year in U.S. hospitals, causing 150,000 injuries. Patients have a higher risk... Read more

January 8 2013 20130108

Make Good on Your Resolution To Quit Smoking

For people who smoke cigarettes, the New Year is a popular time to try to quit.And it's no wonder why.Tobacco use kills about 443,000 people in the United States each year or about 1 in 5 deaths annually. It is the Number One cause of preventable deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.Quitting smoking is one of the best things you can do for your health and for the health of your loved ones. Within just 12 hours of your last cigarette, the carbon monoxide levels... Read more


December 14 2012 20121214

Resources to Help You Stay Healthy in the New Year

As the New Year gets closer, it's a good time to think about how to stay healthy in 2013.One important way to do that is by getting regular medical checkups.  Depending on your age and health needs, these visits may include certain types of preventive and screening tests.If Medicare covers you or a family member, you may have already taken advantage of some of the new benefits provided under the Affordable Care Act (ACA).  These benefits include a "Welcome to Medicare"... Read more

November 9 2012 20121109

Tool Helps Hospital Staff Improve Communications for Patients with Limited English Skills

If you're sick or need emergency care, being unable to communicate effectively can be a serious, even life-threatening, situation.Take the tragic case of Willie Ramirez, a healthy, Spanish-speaking 18 year old who developed a sudden and intense headache.Willie, in a coma, was taken to a hospital. His Spanish-speaking family members told the emergency room doctor that they thought he was “intoxicado.” Among Cubans, that word can mean a person feels ill because of something they... Read more

October 2 2012 20121002

Teamwork a Key Feature of Patient Safety Improvement Program

If you're a football fan like I am, you know that teams win or lose depending on teamwork. A good team may have a quarterback who can throw an accurate pass. But a great team also has players who can protect the quarterback and catch those passes.In short, when teams work together, everyone can do their best job.Today, this approach is catching on in health care in a big way. Doctors, nurses, and other staff have always depended on each other to provide high-quality care to patients. Now... Read more

September 4 2012 20120904

Helping You Avoid Return Trips to the Hospital

If you or a loved one has ever been in the hospital for a serious condition, the last thing you want is a fast return trip.But that's what happens to 1 in 5 patients covered by Medicare, the health insurance program for people 65 and older, a major study found. Hospital readmissions within 30 days are costly for Medicare and for patients. These readmissions total about $17 billion each year. Being readmitted to the hospital can also slow down a patient's ability to recover or cause new... Read more

August 7 2012 20120807

Get Up-to-Date on Shots Before Summer Ends

For many children, August marks the end of summer vacation and the return to school. For parents, it's a good time to make sure their children are up to date on vaccines—or shots—that prevent serious diseases.Because these diseases can easily spread to others, vaccines protect the health of others in your family, in your child's school or day care, and in your community.We need to do a better job making sure very young children get the shots they need, recent data from the... Read more

July 10 2012 20120710

Revealing Medical Errors Helps Chicago Hospitals Build a Safer Health System 2012

A preventable medical error happened when Michelle Malizzo Ballog had surgery in 2008. Worse, it was followed by tragedy her death at age 39.When her family tried to find out what happened, officials at the University of Illinois Hospital in Chicago didn't dodge questions or have the family talk to the hospital's lawyers, according to the Chicago Tribune.Instead, the officials looked into their hunch that a fatal error occurred during Ms. Ballog's surgery. When they confirmed that... Read more

June 5 2012 20120605

Avoid Broken Bones: Learn About Low Bone Density

Until you or a loved one has broken a wrist or hip, it's easy to downplay the risks that come with low bone density. But these risks are serious, and the consequences can cause big life changes.Low bone density occurs when our bodies lose bone tissue faster than it can be replaced. It is a major cause of broken bones, especially at the spine, hip, and wrist. People with low bone density have either osteopenia, a mild form of this condition, or osteoporosis, a more severe type.Low bone... Read more

May 1 2012 20120501

One Step Forward on Quality Improvement, One Step Back on Access

You may already know that heart disease is the top cause of death for both men and women and is responsible for one in four deaths in the United States. It also costs more than $400 billion each year in health care services, drugs, and other expenses.But here's good news: Patients with heart disease are getting better quality of care. Better care has led to fewer hospital admissions and deaths.A new set of reports from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) show that fewer... Read more

April 3 2012 20120403

Consumers Learning To Recognize High-Value Health Care Providers

As a savvy consumer, you shop around and compare prices before you make a big purchase. Thanks to the Internet, information about price, quality, and opinions from others takes just a few clicks of your mouse.But information to help you make good decisions about the cost and quality of health care is not as easy to find.That may be one reason that consumers still tend to think expensive health care providers are better than lower cost providers, according to a new study funded by the Agency for... Read more

March 6 2012 20120306

New Processes Can Help Hospitals Spot - and Stop - Drug Errors

You might think that your doctor would know if a new drug would cause bad side effects in combination with one you already take. Or that your pharmacist could tell if a prescription you thought was for Darvon, (a painkiller), really should be for Diovan (a blood pressure drug). But with thousands of drugs (prescription and over-the-counter) of different strengths on the market, you could be wrong. When important information about medicines isn't communicated correctly at the right time, errors... Read more

February 7 2012 20120207

Million Hearts Campaign Aims to Lower Risk, Improve Care

With Valentine's Day around the corner, hearts shapes are everywhere - on cards, candy, and clothing. But every day of the year, your heart plays a big role in your health and well-being. And conditions or habits that harm our hearts, like high blood pressure or smoking, put our hearts at risk.The risk is serious. Heart disease and strokes kill more than 800,000 Americans each year and cost $445 billion each year, according to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). People with... Read more


December 6 2011 20111206

Tools Help You Choose a Good Nursing Home

Finding a high-quality nursing home for a family member is a daunting task.Many people have not had to make this decision before. And it's often made under stress, when asking good questions and thinking carefully about your options are harder than usual.Fortunately, more information is available that can help you learn about nursing home quality and prepare you to make a well-informed decision.Start this process with an online tool from the Federal Government called Nursing Home Compare.... Read more

November 1 2011 20111101

How to Get a Good Value When Choosing a Health Plan

Welcome to November—with its shorter days, cooler weather, and, for many, decisions about choosing a health insurance plan for the coming year. Whether you're covered by an employer's plan, by Medicare, or you are self-employed or unemployed, doing homework during "open enrollment" can help you get the best value for your money.You may find that you have more options for 2012.Overall, employers that offer health coverage are providing more choices, according to recent... Read more

October 4 2011 20111004

New Initiative Urges Better Communication between Clinicians and Patients

Even with heart disease and diabetes, Bill Lee didn't see the point in asking questions about his medical care. After all, his doctors had the expertise, not him. And if the medicines they prescribed for his conditions didn't make him feel better, what could he do?After having 10 heart attacks and feeling sicker, the 55-year-old Baltimore resident knew he had to get serious about his health. Bill began doing something important: He asked his doctors and nurses questions and he let them... Read more

September 6 2011 20110906

Research on Women's Health Issues Informs Treatment Choices

As individuals, we want choices that reflect who we are and what's right for our situation. Getting the right health care is no different.Until recently, information that showed which treatments work best for certain groups of patients, especially women, was hard to find.Now women's health research is a growing field. The Women's Health Initiative (WHI), a long-term study launched by the late National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director Bernadine Healy, MD, has provided important... Read more

August 2 2011 20110802

Why You Need to Explore Your Treatment Options

Hearing that you have diabetes, high blood pressure, or some other serious condition can be a life-changing moment. Finding the best treatment option to manage it takes a bit longer, but it can make a major difference in your health and well-being.Patients often think only their doctors and nurses know what to do. And they do have skills and training to help you. But keep in mind that you're the one with the serious condition. It is important to understand your condition, know how medicines... Read more

July 5 2011 20110705

Resources to Help You Be a Better Caregiver

Many of us are—or will become—a caregiver to a parent, spouse, child, or other loved one.When that happens, you will need to find out a lot about a disease or condition, ask good questions about treatment options, and make the best decisions you can. But don't be surprised if, like me, you also learn some things you wished you had known earlier.For the past few years, I was an intermittent "virtual" caregiver to my 82-year-old father, Patrick, who died last fall. Even... Read more

June 7 2011 20110607

New Public Service Campaign Urges Hispanics To Talk With Their Doctor

Hispanics are less likely to see a doctor or other health professionals regularly than other ethnics groups. The data from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality is startling. Half (47 percent) of adult Hispanics reported that they did not see a doctor in 2008, compared with 29 percent of adults in other ethnic groups.Why is there such a gap? One reason is the lack of health insurance. One in three, or 33 percent, of Hispanics under age 65 did not have health insurance coverage in 2009,... Read more

May 3 2011 20110503

Safety Culture Creates Better Care for Patients

The more we know about safety, the better.That's why a landmark report on medical errors from the Institute of Medicine remains as important today as it did when it came out 10 years ago. Called "To Err is Human," the report urged hospitals to develop a "culture of safety" to reduce risks and improve care for patients.Today, safety culture plays a big role in health care. Doctors, nurses, and other health care workers are learning that a positive safety culture can... Read more

April 5 2011 20110405

Health IT Tools Help with Care and Costs

More hospitals and doctors' offices are using health information technology (health IT). And that's good news for patients.One of the most popular uses of health IT is the electronic health record. These records put your health data—medical history, medicines, allergies, test results, and more—all in one place. This saves you and your medical team time. It also reduces the chance of an error like getting a drug you're allergic to. A complete electronic health record is... Read more

March 1 2011 20110301

What You Can Do To Prevent A Fall

When kids fall down, they can usually get up and return to play quickly. But for older adults, falls can be serious.Among adults over age 65, falls are a threat to health and independence. They are also common. More than one-third of adults over age 65 fall each year. They account for about 2 million emergency department visits, data collected by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality shows. About three-quarters of those treated are women.One-third of older adults who fall suffer... Read more

February 1 2011 20110201

Focus on Heart Health

February is a time when love is in the air. It is also American Heart Month. While you're thinking of hearts this Valentine's Day, do yourself—and your loved ones—a favor: focus on your own heart.Heart disease is the number one killer in America. Nearly 2,400 Americans die each day from it. About one in three Americans has one or more kinds of heart disease.One common type is coronary artery disease. This occurs when the arteries that bring blood to your heart muscle become... Read more

January 4 2011 20110104

Your Options for Treating Rotator Cuff Tears

It's a fact of life: as we get older, we're more likely to get hurt when we exercise or take on certain everyday tasks. Routine activities like playing tennis or placing items on shelves can result in a common problem—the rotator cuff injury.Tears in the rotator cuff are not a huge health setback. But they can limit movement and cause serious pain. There are several ways to treat rotator cuff tears, including surgery and non-surgical treatments. You'll want to understand your... Read more


December 7 2010 20101207

Don't Let Medicines Cause Harm

We take more medicines than ever to maintain or improve our health. But over the last decade, many baby boomers and seniors have ended up in the hospital because the medications they expected to help them actually hurt them.Many medical problems now can be treated with medicines that were not available just a few years ago. But taking more medicines can also result in some unexpected reactions, especially for people who take several drugs. Bad reactions to medications are on the rise, according... Read more

November 2 2010 20101102

Quitting Smoking: You Can Do It

If you've ever smoked cigarettes and tried to quit, you know it's not easy to kick the habit.While quitting smoking is tough, did you know you have a much better chance of succeeding when you have help? Tobacco users who get counseling, combined with medication and other support, have a much better chance of quitting and staying tobacco-free.More than ever before, support is available. Medicare and other health plans now cover counseling to help you quit smoking. Several resources are... Read more

October 5 2010 20101005

Focus on Obesity

Obesity is literally a growing problem.Today, 72 million Americans are obese. As you probably know, obese people are more likely to suffer from diabetes, heart disease and other chronic health problems. But did you also know obesity can be bad for your budget?It can. On average, obese people spend $732 more each year on medical expenses than those with normal weight, according to a 2009 study sponsored by my agency, the U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ). The study also... Read more

September 7 2010 20100907

Improving Your Health Literacy

There is a truism in health care: When you don't fully understand or can't act on information about your health care, you are more likely to be in poorer health.Nearly all of us, about 9 of every 10 American adults, have some problems with health literacy.Health literacy is not only about reading. It's about understanding difficult health terms and issues. Even highly educated people can have trouble understanding health care information.For example, health literacy plays a role in... Read more

August 3 2010 20100803

Treating High Cholesterol

If you're older than 45, there's a good chance that you or someone you know has high cholesterol. It's so common that treating high cholesterol led to 44 million doctor visits in 2006.High cholesterol may be widespread, but understanding how to treat it can be confusing. However, lowering high cholesterol can prevent heart attacks and strokes. It could even save your life.That's why my agency, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), offers a guide called Treating... Read more

July 6 2010 20100706

Why It's Wise to Use a Health Advocate

Imagine that your doctor just gave you a serious diagnosis or told you she was concerned about the results of your medical test. You might understandably become scared.Listening carefully to your doctor and asking questions about a diagnosis or test results can help you get better care. But here's the problem: Just when you should be paying close attention to what your doctor is saying, you may be stunned by the news you just received.That's when having a health or patient advocate can... Read more

June 1 2010 20100601

How to Avoid the Round-Trip Visit to the Hospital

When patients get out of the hospital, it's usually a sign that their health is getting better and they're ready to recover at home. Unfortunately, millions of patients each year end up back in the hospital. In fact, 1 in 5 Medicare patients go back within 1 month of being released. Even more people face unexpected medical problems within weeks of leaving the hospital.Many of the medical problems that send patients back to the hospital could have been avoided in the first place. What... Read more

May 4 2010 20100504

Healthcare-Associated Infections: They Can Happen to You

You shouldn't have to worry about getting sick because of an infection you may pick up when you're getting treated in a hospital or other health care setting. Unfortunately, you have reason to be concerned.Healthcare-associated infections (HAIs) are infections that patients get when recovering from surgery or receiving treatment for other conditions. The most common complication of hospital care, HAIs contribute to 99,000 deaths each year and cost billions of dollars to treat.They are... Read more

May 1 2010 20100501

Video Advice Columns from Dr. Carolyn Clancy

Patients who are involved in their health care get better quality care and better results. These videos on Navigating the Health Care System feature Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) Director Dr. Carolyn M. Clancy, M.D., encouraging patients to ask questions of their doctor, nurse or pharmacist and to speak up if they have concerns about medications, tests, or procedures.BackgroundPreventing medical errors is a task best shared by care providers and patients. To help patients... Read more

April 6 2010 20100406

Same-Day Surgery: What You Should Know

If you need surgery, there's a better-than-average chance that you'll have it and go home the same day. That's good news for several reasons, but same-day surgery does require some planning on your part.Thanks to advances in technology and anesthesia, nearly 6 of every 10 surgeries performed at hospitals are done as "outpatient" procedures, which means you go home the same day you have your surgery. Nearly 35 million such surgeries are performed each year in the U.S.For... Read more

March 2 2010 20100302

Comparing Blood Pressure Medicines

Today, it may seem easier to get information about a new oven or drill before you buy one than finding clear information about the medicine or treatment that's best for you. That shouldn't be the case, especially for common health conditions like high blood pressure.More than 65 million Americans have high blood pressure, or hypertension. Most people with high blood pressure have no symptoms, but if it's left untreated, it can cause strokes, heart attacks, or kidney problems.... Read more

February 2 2010 20100202

Comparing Diabetes Drugs

We all like having choices. But sometimes, choices can be overwhelming. Marketing research shows that when faced with many choices, people can become frustrated or indecisive.Choices can be confusing in health care, too—especially when it comes to choosing a treatment for an illness like diabetes. But when it comes to your health, you don't want to put off making important decisions.That's why my agency, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), develops... Read more

January 5 2010 20100105

Comparing Medical Treatments for Antidepressants

About one in every six adults experiences depression at some point in his or her life. The good news is that depression can be treated to give you a better quality of life. But finding the right treatment that fits your needs can sometimes be tricky.The most common treatments are antidepressant drugs, counseling, or a combination of the two. If you or a loved one is prescribed a drug to treat depression, you'll want to understand its benefits and side effects because certain treatments work... Read more


November 3 2009 20091103

Does Your Hospital Do A Good Job?

What if you bought a used car and it broke down just a few days after you drove it home? That would be frustrating and costly, at the very least.Now, imagine if just days after you were sent home after a hospital stay you ended up right back there. Unfortunately, this situation happens more often than it should.Thanks to an easy-to-use Web site called Hospital Compare, you can now find out how often patients treated at your hospital end up returning within 30 days of going home.Why is this... Read more

October 6 2009 20091006

Open Enrollment: What To Consider When Choosing a Health Plan

It’s open enrollment season, the time when millions of workers will choose the health insurance plan they’ll have next year. With premiums for health coverage offered by employers rising, it may feel more like open season on your wallet. That’s all the more reason you should understand your options.To get the best value from your health plan, you need to understand your different coverage options and how they work. Then you need to make a choice that’s based on your... Read more

September 15 2009 20090915

What You Need to Know about Blood Thinner Pills

It's easy to take medicines for granted. When we're sick, we may take a drug a few times a day to relieve our symptoms. Then, when we're feeling better, we go back to our daily routine.But some medicines, such as blood thinner pills, require you to make lifestyle changes, such as taking them at the same time each day and making sure you don't injure yourself. These changes are important for you to stay safe and healthy.Each year, nearly 2 million Americans start taking a blood... Read more

September 1 2009 20090901

How to Make an Emergency Department Visit a Safe One

You hope an accident or illness won't send you to an emergency department (ED). But being prepared for such an event can help you get good, timely, and safe care when the need arises.Unfortunately, U.S. hospital EDs are severely overcrowded. In 2006, America's emergency rooms cared for 120 million patients, according to data from my agency, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ). And—because the Nation's health care system still relies on largely paper-based... Read more

August 18 2009 20090818

Personalized Medicine's Frontier Is Coming Into View

Our parents and grandparents share family values, traditions, and heirlooms with us to help define who we are. They also pass along genes that determine our eye color, height, and risk for developing certain medical conditions.Decades of experience have shown us that inherited risks play a large role in rare diseases but a small role in common diseases, such as cancer. The impact of individual behaviors like smoking, lack of exercise, and unhealthy diet is often a greater factor in causing... Read more

August 4 2009 20090804

An Aspirin a Day? The Answer is Different for Men and Women

Throughout the ages, the differences between men and women have been the subject of plays, movies, and books. Shakespeare poked fun at the topic. And, more recently, books with titles like Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus explored the different ways that men and women communicate.When it comes to health, there are also differences in what's best for men and women. Understanding these differences makes it easier for you to take the right steps to stay healthy.Although some differences... Read more

July 21 2009 20090721

Hospital Advisory Councils Get Patients' View on Safer Health Care

Most people know actor Dennis Quaid for his roles in movies such as The Right Stuff and The Rookie. But since his infant son and daughter were mistakenly given a dangerously high dose of a blood thinner in 2007, Mr. Quaid also has become a patient safety advocate. (The twins have since recovered from that incident).Not all patient safety advocates are movie stars, of course. But many have witnessed situations in which their family member was seriously injured or died due to a medical error. My... Read more

July 7 2009 20090707

Talking About End-of-life Treatment Decisions

It's natural to avoid thinking—never mind talking—about dying. As a result, most people do not make their wishes clear to their loved ones or their health care providers. This includes many people who are nearing the end of life.One way to communicate your wishes about future health care decisions is through "advance directives," which are legal documents that allow you to convey your decisions about your health care, especially end-of-life care. But fewer than half of... Read more

June 16 2009 20090616

Keeping Track of Your Health Information

Say you're out of town, and you become ill. You go to the local hospital emergency room, where you are quizzed about your medications and allergies. Unfortunately—in the confusion and stress of the moment—you forget to mention that you're allergic to penicillin until it's too late.It's not farfetched. Visiting a hospital or a doctor can be a stressful experience. Some situations—if you're weak from illness or a trauma, or are in place you don't... Read more

June 2 2009 20090602

New Reports Show Weak Progress on Health Quality

If you get sick or have surgery, you have only a 3 in 5 chance of getting the care that's recommended for you. This statement is so shocking that I wouldn't blame you for questioning it. We have one of the most advanced health care systems in the world, with thousands of dedicated doctors and nurses and many state-of-the-art hospitals. We know that errors happen and that not everyone gets access to health care when they need it. Still, we expect that when we seek out care, we'll get the right... Read more

May 19 2009 20090519

Coordinating Your Care with a Medical Home

If you have a chronic condition like diabetes or heart disease, you need to play an active—and sometimes unfamiliar—role in your care to stay healthy.For example, you may need to take new medicines, change your diet and lifestyle, and check your blood sugar or blood pressure levels. Most likely, you will need to see your doctor and other health professionals, like nurses, pharmacists, and other clinicians, more often than you did before.Managing all of this can be a challenge.... Read more

May 5 2009 20090505

Asking Questions to Get the Care You Need

These days, an appointment with your doctor may give you just enough time to cover the basics: reviewing your medical history, discussing the reason for your visit, and finding out if you need followup tests or medicines.But medical appointments usually don't allow much, if any, time for questions.It's hard to ask questions when you're not sure what the problem is or how to express your concern. That's why it's important to be prepared for appointments by thinking of your... Read more

April 21 2009 20090421

Off-Label Drugs: What You Need to Know

What should you do if your doctor prescribes a medicine for you and you find out that the medicine is not normally used to treat your condition?Ask your doctor. It's possible you've been prescribed a medicine for an "off-label" use.Off-label prescribing is when a physician gives you a drug that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved to treat a condition that is different than yours. This practice is legal and common. In fact, one out of every five... Read more

April 7 2009 20090407

Comparative Effectiveness Research: What It Means for You

Anytime you get news from your doctor, you'll likely have three immediate questions: what does this mean, what should I do about it, and how will this affect my life? Quality health care uses the best available science to help you answer those questions.Say you're a 55-year-old woman and your doctor tells you that a test shows your bones are getting thinner, known as decreased bone density. Your doctor will give you all sorts of treatment options. Should you take drugs? Start taking... Read more

March 17 2009 20090317

How To Complain - And Get Heard

Whether it's a car repair that didn't fix the problem or a bad meal in a restaurant, many of us don't hesitate to complain. Making our voices heard when something isn't right is the first step in getting it corrected. But when we're sick or need health care services, it's hard to know where to direct a complaint. And it can be difficult to question people who may know more than we do, especially when we aren't feeling well.These reasons are valid, but they... Read more

March 3 2009 20090303

How Tired Is Your Doctor?

The pilot who safely ditched the U.S. Airways jet into the Hudson River drew on years of skill, training, and sound judgment in the critical moments before landing.Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger and his crew reacted calmly while facing potential disaster. The miraculous outcome drew attention to the pilot's skill and courage in an extraordinarily stressful situation.One variable—limits on pilots' work hours—also played a positive, if hidden, role. To reduce the risk... Read more

February 17 2009 20090217

New Web Tool Helps You Choose a Nursing Home

Finding a high-quality nursing home for a loved one is a big responsibility.If you've ever been in that position, you probably wondered why you could find more detailed data on the latest flat-screen TV or fuel-efficient car than on a nursing home in your area.Useful data are now available that can help you compare your options and assist you in deciding on a nursing home. Starting in January 2009, the Federal Government unveiled a new tool called Nursing Home Compare. You can use this tool... Read more

February 3 2009 20090203

How to Choose Long-Term Care Services

As our population ages, many of us will need to find long-term care for a family member, a loved one, or even ourselves.There are many different options for long-term care. They range from community services and home care to assisted living facilities, continuing care communities, and nursing homes. Choosing one option over another will depend on several factors: physical and mental health, finances, and preferences. If you are helping someone make long-term care decisions, the choice should be... Read more

January 21 2009 20090121

New Hope for Chronic Disease Management

Reforming our health care system, including better prevention and treatment of chronic diseases, will get a lot of attention from the Obama administration and the Congress.This makes a lot of sense. Chronic diseases are illnesses that don't generally go away once you get them, and, in many cases, can't be cured. They include diseases such as heart failure, high blood pressure, arthritis, diabetes and respiratory disease, and are among the most costly and common of all health conditions... Read more

January 6 2009 20090106

Ready to Lose Weight in the New Year? Experts Offer Guidance for Adults and Children

After too many holiday treats and too little exercise, it's no wonder many of us have made resolutions to take better care of ourselves in the new year.A few extra pounds can be lost as the holiday season winds down and we get back to our regular schedule. But for people who are either overweight or obese, getting to a healthy weight—and staying there—requires major lifestyle changes. For some, it may even involve surgery.Being overweight is defined as having a body mass index,... Read more


December 16 2008 20081216

Better Information Helps Patients When They Leave the Hospital

If you have been a patient in the hospital, you may think that most of your medical needs have been taken care of by the time you're ready to leave. You may also assume that everyone on your medical team—your doctors, nurses, and therapists—is on the same page about your future care needs.I wish this were the case. In reality, studies show that 1 in 4 patients who are discharged from the hospital had an unexpected medical problem after they left the hospital. In some cases,... Read more

December 2 2008 20081202

Online Tools Help Patients Find Good Health Information

The Internet continues to be a powerful force in how we live our lives, including how we find health information. A recent survey showed that between 75 and 80 percent of adults who use the Internet also looked for health information online. People who have a new diagnosis or a chronic disease are most likely to seek health information online.Today, there's a vast amount of this information at your fingertips. Much of it is very good. However, not all of it is accurate, unbiased, or... Read more

November 18 2008 20081118

Guides Help Patients Find Their Best Treatment Options

Whether it's high blood pressure, cancer, or diabetes, chances are good that you or a loved one will develop an illness or medical condition. Chances are also good that you will have to choose among some options for how you want your illness treated. And you'll need information to help answer the straightforward question: "What's the best treatment option for me?"The question sounds simple, but it's not easy to answer. Each week, we hear results of new medical studies.... Read more

November 5 2008 20081105

Keeping Healthy When the Economy Is Not

If you're looking for ways to save money on health care, you're not alone: One in three Americans say they've had problems paying their medical bills in the past year, a new study finds. And 18 percent of Americans said their medical bills were higher than $1,000.To cope in today's bad economy, it seems that people may be taking shortcuts with their health care. For instance, I've read about people who stop taking medicines they need to control a chronic condition, skip... Read more

October 21 2008 20081021

Payment Change Puts Spotlight on Preventing Hospital Errors

Patients don't go into the hospital thinking they might get sicker because of the care they've received. But medical errors or lapses in care that harm patients happen. They occur despite the hard work many doctors, nurses, and hospitals have done to develop better ways of delivering care.Medical errors take a big toll and can happen anywhere. One study found that mistakes cost insurers $9.3 billion in extra charges and caused 32,600 patient deaths each year. Medical errors happen in... Read more

October 7 2008 20081007

Checklist Helps Men Keep on Track to Good Health

Taking good care of your health is no longer a topic that just interests women. Walk through any fitness club and you will see a lot of men working out and staying fit.Staying in good physical condition can help men live longer and have a better quality of life. And these days, men are living longer—an average of 75.2 years in 2007. That's compared to 73.4 years in 1997, according to Federal Government data. By contrast, women lived an average of 79.9 years in 2007, up slightly from... Read more

September 16 2008 20080916

Checklist Helps Women Give Equal Time to Their Health Needs

If you're like most women, you make health decisions for your family, including your parents or relatives as they get older and need more medical care. If your child, spouse, or other family member has a chronic illness, getting them care can take a lot of your time. Finding time to tend to your own health may not be high on your list of things to do.But taking care of your health isn't as hard as it may seem. Practicing healthy behaviors, getting screening tests, and taking medicines... Read more

September 2 2008 20080902

Helpful Steps To Take After You Get a Diagnosis

Being diagnosed with a disease or condition can be a life-altering event.Some diagnoses, such as cancer or heart disease, can be shocking if they occur at a time in life when you're expecting many more years of good health. Even when you suspect something isn't right, it takes time to accept the reality of a disease or condition and how it might affect your life.Research shows that many people with a serious diagnosis share some of the same reactions and needs. It also shows that... Read more

August 19 2008 20080819

How To Use Hospital Emergency Rooms Wisely

Deciding whether to go to the hospital emergency room (ER) is often a clear-cut decision. For instance, if you thought you were having a heart attack or realized that your child just swallowed a bottle of medicine, you would go to the closest hospital as quickly as you could.Many other situations aren't as clear. Should you go to the ER if you have a high fever but can't get an appointment to see your doctor right away? Does a twisted ankle need attention tonight or can it wait until... Read more

August 5 2008 20080805

Checklists Help Men and Women Stay Healthy at 50-Plus

As we get ready to watch the upcoming Olympic Games, several athletes in their 40s and 50s will be taking part, including a 41-year-old U.S. swimmer and a 53-year-old Israeli marathoner.These days, many people over age 50 are staying fit, even if they don't plan to compete at an elite level. But some men and women aren't sure how they can take care of themselves so they can stay healthy and keep doing the activities they enjoy.My Agency, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality... Read more

July 15 2008 20080715

Tips To Help You Find a Good Doctor

Ask 10 people if they know where to get information on buying a new car, and probably 9 of them would say "yes." But if you asked those same 10 people if they know how to choose a doctor, I bet very few would agree.Finding a doctor might seem easy. Popular magazines, Web sites, and other media regularly publish lists of "top doctors." You may also receive newsletters and mailings from doctors in your area or get helpful recommendations from friends and colleagues.However,... Read more

July 1 2008 20080701

Simple Steps Can Reduce Health Care-Associated Infections

Did you know that there is a problem in health care that causes nearly 90,000 deaths and costs billions of dollars to treat each year? It's called a health care-associated infection (HAI)—and it's preventable. That's why it's getting more attention every day.An HAI often happens in the hospital, where patients tend to be very ill or are recovering from surgery. But this kind of infection can also occur in a doctor's office, clinic, emergency room or ambulatory setting.... Read more

June 17 2008 20080617

Do Your Homework Before You Choose A Hospital

Doing a little homework before you choose a hospital can do more than give you peace of mind. Choosing a hospital that scores well on quality can make it easier—and safer—for you to recover from a serious event, like having heart surgery, or a routine one, like having a baby.As a physician, let me emphasize that if you need emergency hospital care, go to the closest hospital. But if you aren't facing an emergency, take time to do some research.The good news is that there is a... Read more

June 3 2008 20080603

Smart Choices: How to Choose a Health Plan That's Right for You

Whether we're making big or small decisions, American consumers like to have options. This preference also applies to making decisions about health plans.Having a lot of options about which health plan to choose can be confusing, because plans can be very different. All plans don't pay for the same services or pay the same amount for services. Not all plans include the same doctors, hospitals, and other care providers. On top of that, health plans also vary in what you have to pay out... Read more

May 20 2008 20080520

What's Your Health Literacy Score?

With final exam season upon us, I'm offering a pop quiz on a topic many of us—health professionals included—need to learn more about. (Don't worry: grades won't be posted!)What do the following scenarios have in common?A middle-aged lawyer with diabetes trying to figure out her medication schedule during a business trip.A man who speaks mostly Spanish wondering if he can have coffee before a lab test that requires fasting.A busy single mom searching at the local drug... Read more

May 6 2008 20080506

Real Men Wear Gowns - And Help Their Health

Spring brings out the sports fan in many of us. Here in Washington, D.C., spring brought us the opening of a brand-new baseball stadium and the return of people of all shapes and sizes running, walking, and playing baseball around the National Mall.Whatever your favorite form of exercise is, taking care of yourself makes a big difference.Beyond running faster or boosting your batting average, there's another, more important reason why you need to take better care of yourself: Your family... Read more

April 15 2008 20080415

Superhéroes Ads Encourage Hispanics to Get Involved in Their Own Heal

No matter how old you are, taking steps to stay healthy is a smart thing to do. Staying healthy can also increase your chances of being involved in—and enjoying—your children's lives.If you are Hispanic, however, you are less likely to be involved in your health care than other ethnic groups in the United States. Hispanics are 38 percent less likely than non-Hispanics to have visited the doctor within the past year, according to the latest data from my Agency.Hispanics get fewer... Read more

April 1 2008 20080401

Your Experience in the Hospital and Why it Matters

If you had successful heart surgery at your local hospital but went home without instructions about what to do at home, you might think your hospital failed to provide top-notch care. You would be right, but you probably wouldn't know how to voice your concern. Although hospitals have asked patients what they thought about their hospital stays, patients' answers have not been available to the public. Not having this information has made it harder for patients to decide which hospitals to use.... Read more

March 18 2008 20080318

Balancing Treatment Advice: Benefits, Risks, and Personal Choice

How many times have you heard family members describe the terrific results they received from a certain medicine or treatment only to hear that a friend had very different results?It doesn't seem to make sense that one person had such good results and another person did not.We're constantly learning about the benefits and risks of medicines and treatments. As you probably know, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration must approve all new drugs and devices before your doctor can use them.... Read more

March 4 2008 20080304

Big Strides, not Small Steps, Needed to Boost Health Care Quality

Walk into many stores and you're bound to be impressed by the quality of digital cameras, TVs, cell phones, and other consumer electronics. Every year, the quality of these devices improves by leaps and bounds, and consumers often pay less as products improve. I wish the same could be said about the quality of the health care in America. A new report from my agency, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), found that we—patients, doctors, hospitals, nursing homes, health... Read more

February 19 2008 20080219

Busting Myths About Health Care Quality

If you've ever watched the popular "MythBusters" program on the Discovery Channel, you know that many supposed truths are based on old, incomplete, or simply incorrect information.The same thing can be said about beliefs about the quality of health care in America. How many times have you heard that more tests and treatments are better than fewer? Or that more costly care is better? And how can you avoid thinking that the latest treatment or medicine is better than one that's... Read more

February 5 2008 20080205

Asking Questions About Medical Tests

A registered nurse in her mid-40s, Nancy Keelan was concerned that her heavy, irregular bleeding could be something more serious than the start of menopause. But her doctor did not agree and told her on several occasions not to worry.Three years later, at age 46, Keelan discovered she had advanced endometrial and ovarian cancer.Today, she speaks to women's groups and advises them not to wait to see their doctors if they develop new, unusual symptoms, according to a recent CNN news report.... Read more

January 16 2008 20080116

What to Ask Before Surgery

If you are facing surgery, you are not alone. Every year, more than 15 million Americans have surgery.Popular TV shows would have you believe that surgery is always an immediate, life-or-death matter. In reality, most operations are not emergencies.This means you have time to learn about the surgery your doctor has recommended so you understand what's involved and feel comfortable that it's the best treatment. It also means you have time to find the right surgeon and hospital and to ask... Read more

January 2 2008 20080102

Tips for Taking Medicines Safely

If your doctor wrote you a prescription for the pain reliever Darvon, would you know if you received Diovan, a medicine for high blood pressure, by mistake? Unless you're a health professional or you carefully read both the doctor's prescription and your medicine bottle at the drug store, chances are you would not know you got the wrong medicine. Many medicines have names that look or sound alike. To limit the risk of confusing two drugs, hospitals and health care organizations have developed... Read more


December 18 2007 20071218

Where Medical Errors Occur and Steps You Can Take to Avoid Them

You don't have to read medical journals to know that serious, even deadly, medical errors take place too often when people get health care.Just last month, many Americans were shocked when they heard the infant twins of actor Dennis Quaid and his wife were accidentally given a dosage of a drug that was 1,000 times stronger than what was prescribed. (The infants were in the hospital receiving treatment for an infection.)The twins and another patient who also got too much of the drug are... Read more

December 4 2007 20071204

Facing the Facts--Get Involved to Get Better Care

Here's a sobering fact: When patients go to doctors' offices, they get the right care only about half of the time. Here's another fact: Every year, 100,000 patients die in hospitals because of medical mistakes. You want the best possible health care for yourself and for your family. That's what we at the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) want, too. Getting involved is one important thing you can do to improve the care you and your family receive. Part of getting involved is... Read more

November 20 2007 20071120

Health Care Quality: Take A Closer Look

We like to think that the quality of our health care system is the best in the world. When one of our loved ones recovers from a life-threatening illness, we believe our doctors and hospitals are the best at what they do.But for all the great results that many patients enjoy, there are too many examples where patients don't get good health care. Sometimes the care patients receive makes their condition worse. In the past few years, we've had to face some difficult facts about the... Read more

October 30 2007 20071030

Becoming an Involved Health Care Consumer

But for many years, we haven't been able to get this kind of information about health care. Being an involved consumer is easy when you're buying a new car. It's much harder when you're trying to find high-quality health care.This is beginning to change, but I wish it were changing faster. The quality of our health system is not as good as it should be. Clinicians and health care organizations are working to create systems that make safe, high-quality care routine, but progress... Read more

October 16 2007 20071016

Recognizing High-Quality Health Care

Today, we know a lot more about what health care quality means than we did just 10 years ago. As our knowledge of health care quality evolves, we are gaining a greater understanding of the types of treatments that work best for you and your family, whether it's for a serious disease, a chronic condition, or a common childhood illness.But what, exactly, is health care quality? Here's an explanation that I find helpful:To achieve the best possible results, health care quality is:Doing the... Read more