Are Your Emotions Affecting Your Health Care? 6 Tips for Making Sound Health Decisions

Making healthcare decisions can be difficult — especially when your emotions cloud your thinking.

April 30, 2023

Navigating the healthcare system can be incredibly stressful, and stressed-out people struggle to make good healthcare decisions. When emotions are high, it's difficult to think clearly.

Emotions play a big role in healthcare. Sometimes patients are afraid to seek treatment, which prevents or delays them from getting the care they need. They might avoid going to the doctor because they're nervous about what the doctor might say, or they may be reluctant to ask doctors the hard questions about their condition.

Richard Fischer, PhD, a clinical psychologist who has been in private practice for 40 years, noted, “The personality style of the patient can result in a stress reaction that compromises judgment regarding timely and appropriate medical intervention.”

In order to take care of themselves, people have to overcome their anxiety and fear. During emotionally loaded situations (such as when a patient is facing a serious illness), people often protect themselves by unintentionally shutting things out. They either don't absorb the information they're hearing, or they immediately forget it.

When a patient with a potentially serious illness isn't able to think through their healthcare decisions and manage their care, it creates a difficult dynamic. This happens far too often and it’s a recipe for poor outcomes. Meanwhile, family members often have differing perspectives on managing a loved one's treatment, which only increases the emotionality of the situation.  

Here's how to acknowledge what you're feeling, evaluate your options, and determine the best way to proceed.

6 Tips for Making Sound Healthcare Decisions 

  1. Rely on trusted sources (including the CDC and academic medical centers like Mayo Clinic and Johns Hopkins) for information. 
  2. Reach out to your medical team. If you notice a new symptom or have questions about your health, talk with your primary care doctor and other specialists who know your healthcare situation.
  3. Be mindful of what you are feeling. When you experience stress, anxiety, or other intense emotions, recognize that it may affect your thinking and decision-making abilities. Share your concerns with a friend or loved one, and consider asking them to accompany you to your doctor’s visits. Dr. Fischer advises, “Bring a relative or close friend to the appointments who can listen to the recommendations with a calm and balanced perspective.”
  4. Make your mental health a priority. Your mental health is just as important as your physical health. If you’re experiencing symptoms, take them seriously.
  5. Get your medical paperwork in order. Do you and your loved ones have essential medical paperwork, such as a living will and healthcare proxy, in place? Completing these documents before anything goes wrong supports your future decision-making and ensures family members understand each other’s wishes. Review your plans at least once a year.
  6. Ask an expert health advisor for help. Health advisors function outside of this emotional paradigm and offer a valuable independent perspective. They can view your situation objectively, recommend care and treatment options, and take you through the process step by step. Health advisory is especially valuable for patients who are under stress. Dr. Fischer noted, “This is a situation where your service can provide the appropriate guidance and support to navigate the process.”

For expert insights on your healthcare decisions, reach out to a health advisor. A health advisor can assist you with selecting the best insurance plan, finding a concierge doctor, arranging for mental health treatment or substance abuse recovery, or understanding other aspects of the healthcare system.

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