Be Your Own Medical Advocate

I had been having many medical issues starting at the age of 27 that not any one doctor could really put their finger on and definitively diagnose. I was told by a handful of doctors, what they thought was wrong. I ended up hearing things that ranged from being pre-menopausal to slightly depressed. I even ended up seeing a psychologist to be sure it wasn’t depression. How silly is that? In February of 2007 I ended up seeing a surgeon in University of Penn in Philadelphia. I was told I had to have my thyroid removed due to a goiter. Naturally, being in shock, I go home and research the thyroid function and read all the information I can about it. I then begin to research what it will be like living without my thyroid and what the changes in my body are going to be. What I found is that all of the research and all of the knowledge in the world couldn’t even begin to prepare me for the journey I was about to take.

For any of you who are not familiar with the thyroid or its function, I’ll give you a brief synopsis. The thyroid is one of the largest endocrine glands in the body. It’s a butterfly shaped gland that sits in your neck, right in front of your trachea. Its main job is to produce thyroid hormone. These hormones are chemicals secreted by the gland to act like messengers telling specific body parts what to do such as regulate heart rate, blood pressure, body temperature, proper brain function, and most importantly, convert food into energy. The function of the thyroid gland is to take iodine, found in many foods, and convert it into thyroid hormones: thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3). Thyroid cells are the only cells in the body which can absorb iodine. These cells combine iodine and the amino acid tyrosine to make T3 and T4. T3 and T4 are then released into the blood stream and are transported throughout the body where they control metabolism (conversion of oxygen and calories to energy). Every cell in the body depends upon thyroid hormones for regulation of their metabolism. The normal thyroid gland produces about 80% T4 and about 20% T3, however, T3 possesses about four times the hormone “strength” as T4.

Without proper thyroid function, you can expect to see these symptoms:

• Fatigue and weakness
• Low basal temperature (cold intolerance)
• Dry and coarse skin
• Hair loss
• Cold hands and feet
• Weight gain
• Insomnia
• Constipation
• Depression
• Poor memory, forgetfulness
• Nervousness and tremors
• Immune system problems
• Heavy menstrual periods.

The awful thing about having a thyroid issue, is that all of the symptoms of which I had, could have absolutely been menopause or depression. Any and all of these symptoms go hand in hand with many different issues, but today, most doctors will immediately jump to depression first, without looking deeper into the issues. This is how I was NOT diagnosed for years with a thyroid issue.

I was told that after the surgery by an endocrinologist that I would be able to live a pretty normal life while taking thyroid medication for the rest of my life. Part of the research I had done prior to my surgery was about the different thyroid medications on the market today, most of which are synthetic. I did, however, find that there was one thyroid medication that was natural made from Pig thyroid hormones. In learning all of this during my research, I feel like I know my body and how it reacts to synthetic things and that my only option was the natural hormone. Armor Thyroid, the natural hormone has been used successfully since 1891. In the 1960’s, the big pharmaceutical companies were replacing Armor with the synthetic brand, which is very different than Armor in the fact that all of the synthetic hormones are T4 only. What is the problem with this, you might ask? If you recall reading earlier, T3 possesses about four times the hormone “strength” as T4. T3 is the one that puts the spring in your step because it is so potent. So my doctor, like many others, would not even listen to me in the fact that I would like to start out with the Armor Thyroid. She says that first we go with Synthroid, and if there’s a problem, then she’ll talk to me about Armor. OK, I decide, I’m not the doctor, so against my better judgment, I’ll do what she thinks is best.

I proceed for the next year and a half, taking Synthroid, and getting sicker and sicker. Any and all of the side effects of Synthroid AND being hypothyroid were mine to have. Over the course of the next 8 months I gained 25 pounds. I had a lot of muscle pain which I’m sure had to do with the weight gain. I am five feet nothing and was always about 110 pounds after my son was born. With twenty five extra pounds, my body was always feeling physically sick and then I was emotionally sick due to the extra pounds I was seeing. I was still so fatigued that I had grown accustomed to drinking energy drinks to keep me afloat, hence, I’m sure attributing to the weight gain. To make matters worse, I had severe constipation that would make or break each day with discomfort and bloating. I very rarely slept through the night which made my life during the day a struggle to keep it together. I would forget things a lot and couldn’t think straight so soon I became seriously depressed because of all of these symptoms and the fact that my doctor kept telling me to hang in there. I was crying all of the time and couldn’t control my emotions.

My doctor told me this had nothing to do with the thyroid, but I felt like my body was revolting against me and I had no control over anything. I went through a dose change of Synthroid every three months until we were to get it right. The dose change would sometimes make the symptoms so severe that I just didn’t know how to deal with it or myself or my family.

During this period of time while taking Synthroid, I researched and researched things that would help with all my symptoms. It was Rebecca, my healer, who turned me on to a natural product that would help with some of my physical issues.

After reading all about this “Holy Tea” I was intrigued and because of its claims, I tried it. I can say at this time, I will never be without it. I have not had the physical slowing down of my GI tract due to this detoxifying tea that, over time, clears out the so-called gunk that builds up in your system. It’s been used with great results for many things such as: Crohn’s Disease, IBDs, Spastic Colon, Enlarged Abdomen, Excess Stored Fat, Skin Conditions, Allergies, Fibromyalgia, Joint Pain, Insomnia, Low Energy, Loss of Clarity, and Forgetfulness, just to mention a few. This was not a cure all for me, but man how nice life becomes when your body starts to feel like it’s functioning again!

After having great success with the tea, I began researching their other products, one of which is Coral Minerals. Without my thyroid it’s very important to keep my calcium levels up because in the surgery, most of my parathyroid glands were taken as well. The major function of the parathyroid glands is to maintain the body’s calcium level within a very narrow range, so that the nervous and muscular systems can function properly. I’ve found that Calcium is the most plentiful of minerals in Coral Complex 3. Coral Complex 3 has helped people keep their bones strong, people with tendentious, periodontal disease, varicose veins, and even mood swings. I’ve been using this as well and it’s been a great supplemental boost.

OK, so I found a few things that helped make life a little more bearable, but the next time I was in to see the endocrinologist, I told her that enough was enough. I was ready to try the natural hormone, and hopefully feel better. She finally, after a year and a half, agreed. I can tell you that with-in a two week period of time, all of the aches and pains I was going through were gone. I wasn’t so sad anymore. I started sleeping through the night. My head was a little clearer, and things were looking up. I still had quite a ways to go, but at that point life was good, FINALLY!! At this point in my life, three years later, I can say that I’m still struggling because for the past three years, I haven’t been able to stay at one dose yet. It looks like I’m finally on that track now, and it was just 3 years in February. I’m sure I will always have some sort of struggle, but I’m on the right track, I can feel it.

So at this point, I finally find the right medication that works with my body and the manufacturer now has the product on national back order. Boy, I was starting to feel like I couldn’t get a break. No fear, whenever I have issues pertaining to my thyroid, I always go back to This is a website that has helped me with many questions that I’ve had as well as be able to chat with people who have the same issues as me. Every now and again, you learn something from someone that you had no idea would help you. It’s a wonderful site, and I highly suggest it for anyone going through these struggles themselves.

Throughout the past three years, I’ve been able to find many things that have helped me through this struggle. The main thing that has gotten me to the point that I’m at today is my support system. I have the best husband, family, and friends that anyone could ask for. They have helped me get through this time, by listening to me talk through it, or sometimes cry and complain. They’ve helped me make sense of it all every step of the way. So to all of the people in my life, I have got to say “I love you!” and “Thank You”. This doesn’t even begin to make you understand how much each of you is an integral part in my life. I treasure all of you and feel blessed that I have so much love in my life to get me through one of the hardest times I’ve had to deal with. And my husband, God love him, was the best support system anyone could ever ask for. I know during this period of time how awful I was feeling constantly and that I was never easy to deal with. But Dave stood with me, and supported me, every step of the way. What I learned most from all of this and mainly from my husband, is that no matter what, you need to trust yourself, and be your own advocate in this world. You know your body better than anyone… including doctors. They know medicine, but only you know when something is truly wrong, and despite the fact that they may tell you your perfectly fine, you need to stand up for yourself and keep fighting until you know in your heart that all is fine.

Thanks to all for listening, and be well.

5 Signs You May Need a Medical Billing Advocate

1. Do you have denied claims that you would like the insurance company to reconsider; yet you are unsure how to appeal the claims?
2. Are you or a family member chronically ill and overwhelmed with sorting through a multitude of bills and insurance paperwork?
3. Do you have elderly parents that need help with their Medicare Supplement and Part D coverage decisions, and you don’t know how to advise them?
4. Have you recently incurred large medical expenses and you are uninsured and don’t know where to turn or what to do?
5. Do you suspect that your medical bills contain overcharges and inaccuracies but you don’t know what to do?

If you answered yes to even one of these questions, consulting with a medical billing advocate is highly recommended. Medical Billing Advocacy of the Rockies provides a free initial consultation to review the facts of your individual situation and will determine whether you have a case, and/or determine what assistance or recommendations they can provide.

“After spending 10 years in the health insurance field working for a major health insurance company, I saw a critical need for this service. Learning and dissecting the healthcare jargon and codes is not something the general population can do, nor has the time to do”, says Holly Knapp, President of Medical Billing Advocacy of the Rockies, LLC. Medical Billing Advocacy of the Rockies located in Loveland, Colorado.

According to Ms. Knapp, some of the common questions from her clients are:

“How can I tell if my medical bills are correct

“How do I know if my insurance company has paid everything they should?”

“How do I know that I am paying what I truly owe? “

The job of a medical billing advocate is to sort out the facts, review itemized doctor and hospital bills, insurance benefit statements, and medical records. “This comprehensive review helps you get fair treatment in a complex and confusing health care system and assures you of a true and accurate bill”, according to Ms. Knapp. Ms. Knapp advocates on behalf of her clients to get them the benefits they deserve, as she resolve billing errors, eliminate overcharges, and negotiate bill reductions.

Medical billing advocates are experienced in helping chronically ill individuals and/or families caring for a chronically ill child, or spouse. According to Ms. Knapp, “When families are dealing with significant health issues, the burden of fighting with insurance companies and health care providers to make sure bills are correct, and properly processed by the insurance company is one more stress they don’t need to deal with at a very difficult time in their lives. A billing advocate can step in to manage the process, and allow you to focus on caring for your loved ones.”

In addition, for seniors who are confused by the complexity of Medicare supplement policies and Medicare Part D drug plans, medical billing advocates who specializes in this area can provide advice and enrollment assistance in a plan that will provide the greatest benefit at the lowest cost.

A recent article published by CBS News, Slash Your Medical Bill; 7 Ways to Haggle offers tips for consumers in how to find medical pricing data for planned medical procedures and then use this information to effectively negotiate with care providers before receiving services. They also offer tips on the best methods to reduce bills for medical services you have already received. An empowered consumer, armed with accurate medical price data, can negotiate on their own behalf to get substantial medical cost savings from both physicians and hospitals.

Holly Knapp is a member of a national organization of medical billing advocates – Medical Billing Advocates of America (MBAA). Advocates come from a variety of backgrounds: health insurance, nurses, lawyers, certified medical coders, and health care administrators. Members support each other in their common goal of a fair and true medical bill, by sharing knowledge and skills as they work together on difficult cases.

Be Your Own Patient Advocate Before Surgery

When planning for surgery it is useful to learn the art of being your own patient advocate. Today’s health and wellness industry has made it easy for us to obtain information to ensure we receive quality care. When we do our own thorough research ahead of time we can feel confident about having a positive surgery outcome.

How to be a patient advocate in navigating health insurance:

It is important to have a full understanding of your health insurance plan. Here are some of the things I learned this past year:

· When in need of a new insurance plan seek out a local insurance broker to help sort out the best plan for your specific needs. Free of charge, they help us attain emotional health about the coverage we choose. These agents know which plans do not raise their rates yearly, which ones are most appropriate to choose with pre-existing conditions, and which plans will be available long-term.

· Whenever you receive a new insurance plan you need to become your own patient advocate by reading through the policy right away. This will inform you if they have placed any restrictions on covering any of your current medical conditions. You do have 30 days to cancel the plan if you find the policy unacceptable.

· If a situation presents where you are not able to pay your medical bill you can make alternative payment arrangements. Those with financial hardships are able to reduce their hospital fees or perhaps waive them entirely.

How to be your own patient advocate for medical visits:

· The health and wellness industry has been great at educating us how to prepare ahead of time for a medical visit. Most of us have already experienced the value of writing down our questions before the visit. To optimize your limited time with the doctor I advise asking your practitioner only those questions they themselves can answer. As my own patient advocate I have learned to query other staff with the remainder of my questions. For example:

1. Direct inquiries about pre-post surgery issues to the surgery scheduler.

2. Ask the front desk staff how to obtain the morbidity & mortality statistics for the doctor and hospital.

· The health and wellness industry has encouraged us to have a trusted person with us during the medical visit. When another is present it allows them to become your patient advocate. I have found their presence vital since way too often my trusted friend brings up issues I failed to mention. It helps me take care of my emotional health when the trusted person is my scribe and documents the doctor’s comments.

· When you need a physician to submit a form (or write a letter) on your behalf it is best to prepare ahead of time. Here are a few examples:

1. When requesting a temporary handicapped parking permit find out ahead of time if the DMV requires you to download their form. If not, draft a letter with your request for the doctor to sign.

2. Whenever you need the doctor to write a letter confirming a medical condition it is best to become proactive as your own patient advocate. Arrive at the medical visit with a sample letter which includes all the pertinent information so you leave with it in-hand.

3. When you need a medical test ordered at another facility come prepared with the name of the facility and FAX number where the request can be sent.

When you follow these guidelines chances are greater you will leave the visit with total confidence that your needs are being handled.

How to be your own patient advocate before and after surgery:

· Know that you can request an early morning surgery when necessary. In taking care of your health and wellness inform the surgery scheduler of needs for early morning surgery if you have health issues that would be compromised when pre-surgery requirements forbid the intake of food or water. Prior to surgery it is best to take care of your emotional health and speed up the time your body is without nourishment.

· It is desirable to have a trusted friend stay in your hospital room overnight. If something unusual presents they can be of immediate value. Today hospitals have a chair that folds down into a bed for these specific purposes.

How to be your own patient advocate in finding the best surgeon:

· The health and wellness industry has made it easy for us to do research online. In your inquiry, seek out the latest state-of-the-art surgery technologies. After studying the various options you are more ready to select a surgeon.

· Search for doctors that use minimally invasive surgical techniques to reduce pain, restore mobility, and promote a quicker return to normal activities.

· In being your own patient advocate you may find the need to look outside your local area for a surgeon. Surgery is an invasive medical procedure. It is in your best interest to feel confident you will receive the highest quality of care.

· I encourage you to inquire how experienced your potential surgeon is. You want someone who has done the procedure hundreds of times to ensure the best outcome.

Hopefully you feel more feel confident about being your own patient advocate when planning for surgery. There are countless online resources available to help sort through the maze of information. Use these guidelines when seeking out what is available and you will find balance in your emotional health.