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7 Essential Actions When You Get Bad News

Bad news from your doctor creates a lot of stress and anxiety for obvious reasons: fear of the unknown, fear of suffering and sometimes, an existential crisis. Most people who get bad news also deal with the strain of managing the people in their lives and all of the burdens that come with receiving modern medical care, like paperwork, bills and too much information. Here are 7 tips that help reduce unnecessary stress in the face of serious illness.

  1. Pick your home team: designate your communicator, your emotional support person and your researcher. Giving people tasks will help to reduce the stress of managing the message, keep your privacy and maintain your own emotional health.
  2. Get organized! Get a 1.5-2 inch 3-ring binder and make the following tabs with dividers: Doctor Consults, Medical Imaging Reports, Pathology Reports, Genetic Testing, Hospital Summaries, and Lab Reports (buy a 3-hole punch!). Creating this binder will help you process information when you need to make decisions, and will also help you to present your case if you seek second or third opinions.
  3. Make a separate folder for insurance claim paperwork or Explanation of Benefits. Consider hiring an insurance claims bill pay specialist to help you get organized on this front, both for tax returns and for peace of mind.
  4. Create a new email address that only your care team knows. Let all of the unsolicited advice go to your old inbox. Make the new one for your doctors, nurses and therapists only.
  5. Review your Advance Directive and make sure your healthcare agent is who you want it to be. Remind that person that they are playing that role for you. Give them a copy of the signed and witnessed directive as well as any written instructions about the care you wish (or wish not) to receive if you are unable to speak for yourself at some point.
  6. Create a wallet card with your name, address, phone number, the contact information for your healthcare agent, your treating doctors’ names and phone numbers and finally, a list of your current medications. Give copies to the team designated in tip #1 in addition to your healthcare agent.
  7. Make sure you are exercising everyday – to whatever degree you can. Exercise clears the brain and allows you to think more clearly.

Illness is a long journey and you don’t need the stress of disorganization when your life is at stake. These 7 steps will reduce unnecessary tension and give you the best chance of a good outcome and a good quality of life while you are going through your ordeal.

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