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Medical Quarterbacks: Why you need this essential health care helper and how to recruit one

  • Category: Health News
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  • Written By: Leslie D. Michelson

Leslie MichelsonImagine having a symphony orchestra composed of the world’s most talented musicians, but there’s no conductor at the helm. Or a football team with no star quarterback to coordinate the other players and bring out their best. That’s often how it is in medicine, the only team-performed function in which there’s no leader. You could have the world’s best physicians overseeing your care, but no quarterback to coordinate all their good work.

As the patient, you’re always in charge. But it’s a rare patient who can manage their own care amid the fear and confusion that comes up when you suddenly learn you have a serious health problem. When that time comes, you’re going to need a trusted friend or family member to be your quarterback, someone who can look out for you on this medical journey and help you partner with your doctors to achieve better outcomes.

If you woke up tomorrow to learn you had a serious illness, who would lead you through the tough days ahead? Now, while you’re well, is the best time to make a list of the people you could reliably turn to for help, and ask one or more of them to be your quarterback.

I spend a lot of time thinking about the qualities that make excellent quarterbacks. In the best of all worlds, it’s a trusted friend with a medical background. But I know that most people don’t have a nurse or physician in their family. And that’s ok. The main three things you need to be sure of are:

1. This is someone you trust. You’re going to be at your worst, and you may feel vulnerable talking about your health issues. Be sure that you feel comfortable sharing personal details with your quarterback.

2. This person is a good communicator. They know how to make friends with the physician’s front-office staff. They can explain your latest aches and pains and get answers for you when you’re too sick to speak for yourself. And they should be able to do it with equal parts assertiveness and compassion.

3. They can commit for the duration of your illness. You don’t know how long you’re going to be sick, but during this time you’ll be dependent on your helper. You don’t want your spirits to suffer if that person moves away, backs out or is no longer available.

While there are plenty of opportunities for loved ones who live far away to lend a hand, your main support person should live nearby so they can get you to appointments, prepare your home after a hospital stay and check on you after treatment. This will become crucial if you’re suddenly dealing with complications and need immediate medical attention.

If it’s not feasible for one person to take on this role, having two or more can be a great solution. In my experience, the best quarterback teams possess three indispensible talents:

1. Methodical Organization. Who is the detail-oriented person in your life? That’s your organization person. They can help you update your records, manage prescriptions and take notes at doctor meetings. Lean on them to keep you on track.

2. Research and Data Collection Skills. Do you have a computer-savvy friend? That’s your research and data person. They can set up Google alerts and emails from the disease-specific philanthropies to keep you abreast of the latest news on your illness.

3. Emotional Savvy. Who do you turn to when you just need to talk? That’s your emotional support person. Lean on them when your spirits are flagging.

If there’s one person in your life who has all of these qualities—that’s an amazing quarterback! But if two or more folks have these traits, that’s great too.

Sometimes people say, “How can I ask anyone to do this? I don’t want to be a burden on anyone.” But when you’re stressed and overwhelmed, you have nothing left to give your children, spouse, siblings and friends—the very people you’ve supported over the years. Let a friend be a friend. And give them the comfort of knowing that you’ll be there for them too, if the day comes that they need a quarterback.

Leslie D. Michelson is the author of The Patient’s Playbook and host of The No-Mistake Zone™ podcast. He is a highly sought-after expert who has spent the last 30 years guiding thousands of people through our complex health care system.