The latest research, insight, and learnings in supportive cancer care.

Navigating the Healthcare Maze: How Advocacy and Equity can Fix a Broken System

by Dr. Hillary Lin

The Unexpected Blow - When Health Falters

My father was undergoing a routine stent placement when he suffered a heart attack and a perforation - a hole - in his heart. He was shocked five times and stabilized with heart-assisting machinery and is now in intensive care on the heart transplant list.

The event happened suddenly, without any warning. He had been working as an ob-gyn physician just the day before. The procedure was supposed to have him in and out of the hospital.

But then I realized - major health events always feel sudden.

Whether it is a cancer diagnosis, a drug overdose, or a heart attack, all major health events feel like they happened out of the blue. We are unprepared for them and go through a rapid cycle of the stages of grief as a result—denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance, or all of the above.

A Universal Experience

The truth is that most of us, at some point in our lives, will face a significant health event. The consequences and implications of these events are universal, affecting every age group and strata of society. The emotional burden is immense, and our natural response is often one of avoidance, denial, and fear.

Yet we can nearly predict what might happen to us and our families simply by looking at epidemiological trends. For example, I am at an age where about half of my peers’ fathers have passed away, typically due to heart conditions (women’s cardiac health is relatively protected due to estrogen until menopause). I have also had multiple family members develop cancer, with several passing away.

But beyond the emotional toll lies another daunting hurdle: the labyrinthine complexity of the healthcare system. From obscure medical terminology to convoluted logistics, navigating healthcare often feels like scaling an insurmountable wall, making us feel powerless.

The problem is more than avoidance. It is a wall of inscrutable, insurmountable complexity that blocks access to our agency over our health.

Rethinking Healthcare Disruption

When I started my journey as a healthtech entrepreneur, I thought primarily about emotional and mental health. As a physician, I have seen how soulless healthcare has I believed that by offering greater access and better options for mental health care, we would solve emotional distress for patients.

But when we started caring for patients with severe illnesses like cancer at Curio, the picture changed. Emotional suffering stemmed from a different source, and patients wanted something unexpected. Yes, cancer patients want to be cured and live longer. Yes, they want emotional support through the grief and acceptance that happens over and over. But more than anything, patients and caregivers were grappling with logistical issues, financial toxicity, and the feeling of losing control over their lives due to the complexities of our healthcare system.

“All I want to do is be a daughter to my mother.”

A caregiver, overwhelmed by logistics, who couldn’t fully support her mother battling lung cancer

Historically, efforts to bridge these healthcare gaps have fallen short. Manual solutions have proven expensive and fraught with communication gaps. Digital solutions often suffer from design and usability issues, leading to cynicism and disengagement. We need to rethink how to solve fragmentation, inequity, and confusion so that patients can not merely survive their illness, but instead thrive.

Everyone Deserves a Co-Pilot

In an ideal world, every person would have sufficient health literacy to comprehend their diagnosis, treatment plan, and associated costs, making informed decisions aligned with their personal values and goals. Yet, the current reality is a stark contrast, with many patients feeling overwhelmed and helpless when they are most vulnerable and ill.

This is where health advocacy comes into play. Until we achieve a healthcare utopia, every patient deserves an advocate - a co-pilot for their health and wellness. This advocate would help navigate the healthcare maze, support decision-making aligned with personal values, and provide coaching for next-step actions.

A hybrid approach, combining human empathy and AI-enabled technology, is crucial. While human advocates can foster trust and rapport, technology can extend their capabilities, ensuring constant availability and adaptability.

In such a future, an AI-enabled navigator would be there to explain to the patient and loved ones what a pathology report really means, the next steps to take with an insurance bill, and what questions to ask a doctor at their next visit. We would thus finally eliminate the massive time and cost inefficiencies in healthcare.

A New Era

We are standing at the cusp of a healthcare revolution. AI augmentation of healthcare workers is becoming a reality, and the need for change in the healthcare system is more apparent than ever. It is time to empower patients to regain control over their health, tackle the overwhelm, and become active participants in their healthcare journey.

The mission at Curio is to bridge this gap, leveraging technology to provide every patient with their personal health advocate, and in doing so, we aspire to make healthcare more equitable and accessible for all.


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