True confession: I hate going to the dentist. I don’t like the sounds of the tools, the toothpaste they use tastes gross, and God forbid if my sensitive teeth need a filling *insert scrunched up face emoji*. Mind you, I am totally grateful that I actually have dental insurance. But hey – some people don’t like their vegetables. I don’t like the dentist. It’s a personal problem. Lately, I have noticed that I am less and less motivated to try to go to the dentist. Life gets busy and you realize that you don’t even like going – so you don’t make an effort to go. But I also don’t want to be 90% gums before I’m 30 and should therefore drag myself to the dentist. Talk about a internal conflict of interest.
There are so many reasons why people like myself don’t insert themselves into the healthcare system. Here are the statistics according to a 2015 study:
- Traditional Barriers (High Cost of Healthcare, Not enough time, Lack of Insurance, Inconvenient Hours) – 58.4%
- Unfavorable Evaluations of Healthcare (Physician factors, Fear, Organizational factors, Expected negative results) – 33.3%
- Low Perceived Need to Seek and Medical Care – 12.2%
The study theorizes that all of these factors create general avoidance of the healthcare in the United States. Some of these factors a person can control (like fear). Some of these factors we can’t (like cost). But tackling these issues can be easier if you have a health accountability partner. A health accountability partner is someone in your life that makes sure you are really taking care of yourself and vice versa. They can be a sounding board and a general resource for you. Health is more than healthcare – it’s your well being and your day-to-day sanity. Here are some other benefits of including someone else in your journey to better health.
- It is making you a priority. Whether you are a millionaire or have $0.05 in your bank account, self-care is crucial and should be a priority. Self-care is a huge part of your health in general. Eating well, drinking water, sleeping, seeing your doctor, getting your exercise – all of that goes in that category. Also, these are preventative as well (and preventative care is easier on the pocket than buying medication). Of course, self care can be done alone. But having another person checking to see if you are taking control of your health can help motivate you to really make a difference in your life.
- Support is a good thing. No man is an island – everyone needs support and community. Speaking to the black community, we usually keep a dual mindset. On one hand, we believe it take a village to create an edifying community. We love our extended families and we tend to raise our children in community. However, there is also the mindset that we have to always be looking out for ourselves and it is a sign of weakness to ask for help. Support is not a sign of weakness. It is a sign of strength and self-realization. You cannot carry the weight of the world on your shoulders – it will break you eventually. A healthcare accountability partner can help provide support in a very sensitive area of your life.
- It provides a safe space. The great thing about having a healthcare accountability partner is that it’s a no-judgment-zone. You can be honest when you are scared. You can ask weird questions. You can compare eating and exercise habits, get their opinions on different doctors, and learn about insurance options. Two minds are better than one when it comes to health. General health and healthcare is hard to navigate. If both of you are just trying to learn how to live healthier lives, there are no dumb questions. Matter of fact – everyone learns by asking questions. So it pays to have a place when you can.
- Sharing experiences helps normalize healthcare conversations. We have to get better at talking about health and talking takes practice. In the African-American community specifically, oral tradition has historically been used to educate, preserve, and to connect. I think ancestors had the right idea. Talking about healthcare with someone else fosters connection and knowledge. Learning how to talk to someone while they keep you accountable helps you learn how to hold others accountable. Sharing stories is essentially starting a dialogue. And the more you talk, the more normalized the conversation becomes.
In essence, obtaining and maintaining good health is harder alone. We all need people who will be in our corner, keep us informed, and fight for us to be better – even when we don’t want to be. For me, I have a circle of about six people where we all rejoice in our health victories and ask questions when we are lost. But it can also be just you and one other person who makes sure that you see your therapist once a week like you promised. Whoever you pick just know that you don’t have to do life (or your health) alone.
Sitting amongst friends,
The Neighborhood Bioethicist