Healthcare is a thorny, complicated topic that many adults aren’t very clear on. It’s also of critical importance. We rely on the system from the moment of our birth to the very last breaths that we take. The system must work.
Educating younger generations about the inner workings of healthcare can help the system survive and thrive in the future. In this article, we look at how to help high school students better understand healthcare.
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Bridging the Gap
Healthcare outcomes differ significantly amongst various segments of the population. For example, caucasian women have significantly better patient outcomes when it comes to childbirth than African American women do. Routine surgeries and courses of treatment similarly favor people of European descent from a statistical standpoint.
Pinpointing why can be a little bit tricky. African Americans are indeed less exposed to high-quality preventative care, which does have a bearing on their overall healthcare outcomes. Still, there are many situations that financial differences cannot explain away.
Serena Williams, for example, had severe life-threatening complications while giving birth several years ago. She survived the experience by being a powerful advocate for herself. However, there can be no doubt that prior to giving birth her resources had empowered her to receive the very highest level of prenatal care.
So, what then?
One common theory is that the healthcare industry suffers from unconscious bias. While healthcare providers want the best outcomes for all of their patients, statistics indicate that they are less likely to take the complaints of African American patients seriously, which can prevent them from getting the care they need on time.
This is a problem no single solution can solve. However, by reaching minority populations at a young age, it may be possible to provide better care for underserved populations in the future. Knowledge is power. Understanding the issue may lead some minorities to take careers in healthcare where they can actively work on the problem from the inside.
Others will simply become more aware of how they are being treated by the healthcare system, empowering them to better advocate for themselves when they need to.
It doesn’t matter who you are. Nearly everyone has bumped heads with their insurance company at one point or another. For most of childhood, insurance is a vague concept. Something your parents have that you think about approximately never.
The need to understand it falls upon most people very suddenly. Being insurance fluent at a young age can help:
- Understand the terms: What’s a premium? How about a deductible? How much will I have to pay out of pocket at the ER? The doctor’s office? Understanding these questions on the front end can help patients make more informed healthcare decisions that, at least potentially may allow them to avoid supersized hospital bills.
- Know When You Need To Get It: Currently, the Affordable Care Act allows people to stay on their parent’s insurance until the age of 26. For some people, this deadline comes up very suddenly. High school students who understand it are better positioned either to find work quickly that will provide healthcare insurance, or figure out how to enroll independently for care that is affordable.
- Understand What They Need: Understanding insurance at a young age also better positions high school students with preexisting conditions to know how to navigate the system. Unfortunately, this can be difficult, even for people with conditions that are common and well understood. For example, if you have type 1 diabetes (an incurable disease) some patients may need to provide a letter from their doctor to their insurance company quarterly explaining that they still have it.
These hoops are frustrating and difficult, but for people who are aware of them, it becomes easier to look for coverage that is most suited to their specific needs.
Understanding insurance at a young age also could produce a young generation of advocates. The proliferation of affordable healthcare in America has stalled in no small part due to a lack of understanding. If high school students can become insurance fluent they will be well-positioned after their education to advocate for policies that are equitable, affordable, and designed with patient care in mind.
A Healthier Generation
Understanding healthcare doesn’t have to be purely semantic. Knowing the ins and outs of lingo and insurance is fine, but high school students will also benefit from understanding healthcare at a macro level. What are people being treated for? What factors are producing bad patient outcomes?
Awareness can, for example, help high school students make more informed decisions about diet and exercise. Obesity rates continue to sore in the United States. A condition once known as “adult-onset diabetes” has now been rebranded as “type 2 diabetes” because so many overweight children have come to contract it.
High school students who are aware of these risks might begin making immediate lifestyle changes that could set them up for a lifetime of better help.
This is equally true for other public health considerations such as regular preventative care, or vaccine usage.
A New Generation of Healthcare Workers
It’s no secret that the healthcare system is under significant strain. Most laypeople assume that staffing shortages will work themselves out. They have to, right? Communities need fully staffed hospitals. The truth is a little more complicated than that.
As people leave the healthcare system in droves, they can only be replaced if an equal or greater number of people are re-entering the system in the form of college enrollment. To create a sustainable solution for staffing shortages, the healthcare system needs a new generation of doctors and nurses.
Talking to high school students about the healthcare system may encourage some to fill these roles.
Understanding Healthcare Terminology
It’s also worth noting that the healthcare system has its own vocabulary that might not be intuitive to people, particularly not when they find themselves needing urgent care. Understanding healthcare terms at a young age allows students to understand what is happening when the chips are down and make decisions that are better suited to their own needs.
Making it Work
Ideally, educating high school students about healthcare would take place in the classroom. Where this isn’t possible, parents should consider assuming the responsibility themselves. One way to help students understand healthcare is to simply involve them in how it works at home.
Show your kids’ insurance bills. Teach them about premiums and deductibles. Inform them what your insurance covers. Why it is good, where it isn’t, and what they should look for in personal insurance coverage.