Healthcare Hurdles: Strategies for Navigating a Stressed Out System

Even the most health conscious will eventually need to navigate an industry not built for proactive healthcare. Here are a few key steps to bridge the gap between medical advances and access to them. 

The healthcare system is broken. Medical advancements and diagnostic technology continue to improve at a rapid pace, which is great news. However, getting access to tests, specialists, and procedures in a timely manner is harder than ever. If you have personally not experienced the extreme level of difficulty in maneuvering this process, consider yourself lucky. A desire to be proactive in our current healthcare system will test even the most patient person on this planet.

Straining a Stressed Out Healthcare Industry

We are living longer. And those of us who are focused on healthy aging are really excited about this overall rise in longevity. But once you need a timely service or diagnosis outside of your annual checkup, buckle up for a wild ride. There are over 121 million of us in the United States over the age of 50. We account for about 37% of the total population. This is stretching the limits of the healthcare system at a vital time for those wanting to proactively age well.

Once hitting the age of 45 or 50, we typically require a few more healthcare services due to recommended screenings, the onset of chronic conditions, and age-related illnesses. This rapidly increasing demand puts pressure on healthcare facilities, resources, and providers. 

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Workforce Challenges Are Elevated

Meeting our healthcare needs requires skilled healthcare professionals. Healthcare systems are facing a shortage of nurses, caregivers, geriatricians, and specialists. After recently being referred to a specialized neurology group, my husband was told the first available appointment for a new patient was 7 months out. This is just not acceptable, and can actually make us sicker. 

Coordination of care is increasingly important. Often our healthcare requires a holistic and coordinated approach. That might mean managing chronic conditions, medication oversight to avoid possible adverse drug interactions, preventive screenings, and addressing new physical or cognitive impairments. Lastly, getting integrated care is resource-intensive and challenging, as even specialists inside of the same practice do not always work together. 

Healthcare Costs are Rising

Medical advancements and technological innovations lead to improved diagnosis and improved treatment options. Additionally, they come with a hefty price tag. The costs to invest in research, development, testing, and regulatory compliance are passed on. Because of this, consumers bear the trickle-down expense from insurance companies, healthcare providers, and private healthcare programs.

Long-term care is too expensive. The demand for long-term care services that assist with daily care are very often unmanageable. Even purchasing insurance ahead of time is cost prohibitive for most. When my father was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s, my mom stressfully managed costs by bearing most of the care on her own (after working a full day) and hiring a professional to fill in the gaps. 

Overall, addressing these challenges requires a multifaceted approach. While we collectively push for more affordable, more accessible, and better integrated healthcare, let’s look at where we have agency to improve our personal healthcare path. 

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How Best to Navigate the Quagmire 

The squeaky wheel gets the grease. While we may need to eventually resort to this methodology, you can be more of a persistent, firm, and well-informed “wheel” by meeting the healthcare system halfway. 

Embrace technology where you can. Set up your patient portal as this does streamline communication with your doctors and specialists. Many doctors and nurses will answer questions much quicker if they can respond via email in their secure portals. Furthermore, relying on a returned phone call at the end of a day will only add to your wait time. 

Speak up if something does not work. If appointment times are too far out, or if you don’t feel as if you are being heard, it is time to get louder. After my husband accepted that first available neurology appointment 7 months out, I stepped in knowing that it is often easier to advocate for someone else. First, I called a specific specialist in the group and confidently (yet courteously) stated that the referring doctor wanted my husband seen ASAP. He was seen within a week. And I was sincerely thankful to the scheduling nurse and still view her as a lifesaver.

Next, get authorization as an advocate or give permissions to those that support you. This authorization is part of the normal process with your PCP. That being said, be sure to get these forms completed when initially seeing a specialist. It will radically reduce time if you happen to be an advocate for a loved one. 

Tip: Having your personal history on hand when seeing someone new can drastically cut down on patient intake time and can help you remember dates when under pressure at a new office.

Keep your own file. Having your personal history on hand when seeing someone new can drastically cut down on patient intake time and can help you remember dates when under pressure at a new office. Not all the details of the conversation you have with a doctor will make it into their notes. You will also come across as very prepared and “in tune” with your needs — making your personal advocacy much easier. For instance, the neurologist was pleasantly surprised when we arrived with MRI imaging on a disc for his immediate review.

This type of preparation or advocacy might feel challenging or burdensome at the beginning. However, it will save you time and (some) frustration along the way. 

It Is Quite Literally Your Life and Your Health

We often discuss agency, yet this is an area where, unfortunately, we don’t always have as much as we need. That can feel stressful and scary. I’m betting most of you have already felt this way for yourself or for a loved one. Truthfully, it quite frankly sucks at times — even for the most positive and optimistic.

Being persistent, prepared, firm, and well-informed can help as you navigate the rollercoaster of emotions that come with navigating the healthcare process. Finally, if any of you have additional tips or methods for best navigating this process, please share them below. You never know how your story might help someone else! 

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See medical disclaimer below. ↓


  1. Technology has ruined health care, no one really looks at their patients, they are too busy clicking suggested drop down bars on their computers, to select half baked answers, if the specific answer is not there! These last 2 yrs, has been chasing to get help. My husband is 83 & me 72. It’s a nightmare, and speaking up does NOT help. Too many robotic calls now!

    • I am so sorry that you have experienced challenges within the system as well. I also agree that most of us do not fit into “a checked box”. I hope you find the right provider and care for both you and your husband.

  2. This is such a good melting down of the current pressures and challenges of delivering healthcare today. I would add one additional thing…our expectations on how we receive information has fundamentally changed since 2007 (creation of the IPhone). The only two things that haven’t changed in the way they are delivered since then is Haircuts and Healthcare. The good news is we have technology today to close the gaps between in person visits to our HCP’s and allow micro-doses of meaningful health information to travel between the patient and the HCP. I see a world in the near future that allows a person to actively contribute to their health wellness by sharing meaningful health metrix (pain scores, physiologic measures etc) in real time from the place they spend their life, which is outside the office visit.

    • The “haircuts and healthcare” is spot on! And – yes, the way we receive information is so very different due to iPhones. (Just look at the generations that follow us and how they communicate) I have gotten so much better using the portal for communication in-between visits and it has been a game changer with response time. I like the future that you see!

  3. I’ve found the online portals so helpful and timely, when my HCPs use it. I’ve used it to ask questions of my PCP that are quick to answer, and not worth a visit for me or my PCP. I’ve used it to refer back to test results, medications and history. Such a useful tool!

    • I completely agree! I waited longer than I should have in setting that all up (initially not really needing it for the once a year preventative visits) – and now my husband and I can access each other’s portal in the event that is needed.

  4. Definitely agree with the squeaky wheel advice! Waiting more than a week for a specialist when you are navigating a new diagnosis is unacceptable! Calling and asking to be put on a waiting list definitely cut down our appointment time frame. We must do better.

    • Absolutely! We’ve run into tests and appointments being scheduled as far as 6 months away. It is crazy – in 6 months the issue could be SO much worse. And often – we wait two weeks for test results. Really?? You are right – we must do better.


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The ideas expressed here are solely the opinions of the author and are not researched or verified by AGEIST LLC, or anyone associated with AGEIST LLC. This material should not be construed as medical advice or recommendation, it is for informational use only. We encourage all readers to discuss with your qualified practitioners the relevance of the application of any of these ideas to your life. The recommendations contained herein are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. You should always consult your physician or other qualified health provider before starting any new treatment or stopping any treatment that has been prescribed for you by your physician or other qualified health provider. Please call your doctor or 911 immediately if you think you may have a medical or psychiatric emergency.

Ashley Feltner
Ashley is a writer, an artist, and an ideator who has placed storytelling into her process for bringing sales and marketing ideas to life for over 20 years. Her background includes recruiting, training, content development, and ERG leadership within highly matrixed organizations that provide her a unique perspective and an ability to authentically connect with individuals from all walks of life. With the desire to place a little humanity into the digital experience, Ashley believes that words do matter, a little empathy goes a long way, and having a purpose in life is imperative. She and her husband Gabe live in Nashville, TN with two very active teenage daughters and two very lazy field spaniels.


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