Some bad things about American healthcare and how I’d like this industry to be disrupted

There is one thing about the US that drives me nuts – healthcare costs and bills. I dream there will be a company one day (I’m sure some already exist) that will turn healthcare market more transparent and make people more informed so that they can navigate this market easier and shop around for a better deal. I would also love to understand medicals bills, at least what exactly I’m paying for. And in general it would be great to be able for myself to keep track of my medical history at any given time no matter who is my doctor is at this particular time.

When my Russian friends ask me why I’m not happy with American healthcare and why I always try to get some healthcare procedures done in Russia whenever I go there, while the rest of the world dreams to have treatment in the US, I tell them scary stories about healthcare costs for ordinary people like us. Before my husband decided to get us healthcare insurance through his own company, where he is CEO (which cost the company a huge amount of money) we weren’t eligible for any government subsidized healthcare program, so we needed to buy health insurance out of pocket. We paid around $500 monthly just for the very fact that we had insurance, this sum didn’t include any services, and we needed to pay around $3000 deductible for healthcare services per year per person to even start receiving benefits.

When after giving birth to my daughter I started getting medical bills, I spent many many hours desperately trying to figure out what services exactly I was supposed to pay for. On the bills that I received I couldn’t find any detailed information about procedures performed except medical codes that only medical coding specialists can understand (not even doctors) and generic formulations like “laboratory” or “other diagnostic services”. I still don’t know what exact services were included in my bill. People who have great heath insurance benefits are almost completely covered and don’t care about the specifics of billing, but what about people who pay for everything out of pocket?

Also when you are recommended a certain medical procedure with a specific provider, there is no way to know its costs in advance. That’s exactly what a medical journalist Dr. Elisabeth Rosenthal talks about in her book “An American Sickness”. People aren’t really given any opportunity to make an informed choice. So the first idea I would like to bring up (potentially business idea) is to make healthcare market more transparent.

Another idea I like is making a platform that would allow to store all personal healthcare history in a comprehensive manner and in chronological order. I dealt a lot of dental work recently. I much of this work was done by different dentists. I think my current doctors and myself would benefit tremendously from knowing when and what procedure was done, by whom and how my teeth looked like at the time of the procedure. The X-rays would show that. I realize this kind of project would be very hard to implement due to privacy policies. At every medical office we sign an agreement form that our doctor won’t disclose our private information to anyone. But I think I would benefit from having a complete history of my teeth health here and now with no need to keep an evernote blog where I write down summaries of each consultation and procedure I got and post X-rays.

Adaptability is cure

Yesterday I was at a meeting in the very center of financial district of San Francisco. I moved from SF to South Bay only a year ago and still consider myself a city girl, who doesn’t mind being around people. But now, especially after having a baby, I was rather surprised to see a playground in Portsmouth Square, like a sanctuary of innocence in the very epicenter of busy, dirty and bustling street.

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I tried to imagine, what I would feel like if I would find myself living with my child in this neighborhood?.. I like drawing these kinds of hypothetical situations, because I believe that it’s not the place that makes the person. Yes, it would be uncomfortable and probably even dangerous. But this wouldn’t make me dream less and wouldn’t make me a worse person, as well as my child. Life gives us challenges and we get stronger and wiser while we go through them. One idea crossed my mind today and I liked it: “Bad experience is good experience”. We can share our knowledge with others. It’s no coincidence that people are more interested to read about sinister and dramatic experiences of others. The more dramatic the experience is, more chances are the story becomes a hit.

People adapt to different situations. When we just had a baby and we were living in the very hearth of San Francisco with its narrow and steep streets, some weird people in the surrounding neighborhoods (I later learned where they hang out and tried to avoid those places) and lack of green trees that I love so much, I was scared in the beginning. But then over time I found my favorite playgrounds and cozy shady corners, friends with whom I could share my precious first baby moments and life came back to comfort and happiness. During every twist of our life we experience a short earthquake, when we leave our comfort zone, but then the soil under our feet becomes stable again. And after life changes again, we experience loss of what we’ve built, we miss our little cozy world that we created in the cold place previously alien, but later part of our life.

Dream everything

Today’s popular culture seems to exploit the concept of dream. There is no single day when I wouldn’t stumble upon an “inspirational” quote posted on beautiful background that is supposed to encourage me to follow my dream and not allow circumstances to let me down on my way to my dream. This approach is considered mainstream and almost common sense. But it assumes that a person to whom it’s addressed knows exactly what his dream is and what direction he should follow. But this is not the case for everyone and merely following the path that someone thinks is right, going through pitfalls and failures, might actually be the wrong thing to do. Why the public image of “highly successful people” that had a long and hard road to success (who hadn’t, right?) became such a typical representation of what each of us should be doing with our life?

In my opinion when a person knows what his dream is, he’s already half done with his journey to success. It’s easy to help someone who knows what he wants. He doesn’t even need any help at all. It is much more difficult (and it’s much more needed) to help someone who is lost in his goals and priorities. These people need way more guidance and menthorship.

I’m writing this because I think people shouldn’t be ashamed that they are still searching for their dream and are not sure where to move. And the public should be more receptive to people who are in their search because it’s much better in the long run to stop doing things that you don’t like in order to save time for a major career change.  Sometimes you just shouldn’t ‘keep trying’ forever. And be bold enough to say: ‘enough, I’m moving on’!

Dreams transform over time. What you thought is your dream often ends up being absolutely not what you thought it would be. I thought I wanted to be a journalist, but then I realized this is a bit different from what I thought it would be. And it took me years to admit it for myself.

The mere fact that someone encountered too many obstacles on his way to accomplishing his dream might mean that this is not what he really wants. Coping with rejections and failures might not make him happy in the bottom line. On the contrary, it can destroy his self-confidence and let go precious time that he will desperately need to rebuild his dream.

People should learn how to look inside their own desires and interests. Today we are so obsessed with ‘self-madeness’ that we forget that someone already ‘made us the way we are’. We can build skills, but we won’t be able to rebuild our nature.

In this light I would suggest an alternative to the popular saying “follow your dreams”. Something like “dare to reveal your true dream”, or “dare to admit that your real dream might not be what you are used to thinking”. Dreams are very personal, and nowadays they are very much influenced by social media, popular culture, success stories and sometimes instead of living our own life we unconsciously live other peoples’ lives.

About freedom

When I came to the US for the very first time, the perception of the country that I had back then was a compilation of images created by media and popular culture and replicated by people’s mundane judgments. The country of freedom and the American dream.

I remember that my first impression was that there is no ‘freedom’ in the US. You can’t do things that are allowed in Russia. You can’t drink alcohol until you are 21 and yet you can drive your own vehicle. You don’t have anywhere to go out after midnight because all the bars close. You can’t register to a class of your choice at the university and get credit for it if you fail to secure a spot because other people were quicker. You are not allowed to walk anywhere you want on the street (even if there is no fence) because some areas are private property and you can not trespass there. You can’t drink alcohol on the beach (hey, why can’t I spend a romantic evening with someone important enjoying sunset and a little wine?..). You are not allowed to stay in the park after dark, even in the central park in a populated community, and yet homeless people are allowed to sleep and do whatever they want pretty much anywhere, which makes, for example, parents with kids avoid some places. You can’t have picnic or camp anywhere you want. Everything seemed so much regulated. In Russia was used to the concept that if you know how to ask and whom to ask, you can get around pretty much any regulation.

So I started to think that the very concept of freedom is different in the US and in Russia. My hypothesis was that in Russia it is more like ‘liberty’ which means that if you are free, you can do anything you want, anything that comes to your mind here and now,  and nobody will tell you anything. Getting round regulations.

I started asking my friends what does freedom means for them and all the answers were similar. They said that freedom means being able to do what you like, spend time with your loved ones and friends whenever you want, travel to beautiful and meaningful places for you and pursue your dreams while not feeling restricted by work schedule imposed by employer. Apparently the employer is perceived as someone who gets in the way to their dreams. Interestingly it doesn’t necessarily mean that people I talked to would really drop everything and embark on the road to their dream (because they have families to feed, bills to pay, investors to please and employees to think about). It just means that they have this option. In this context having freedom means having choice, or having the right to choose in the personal understanding of the concept of freedom. And it doesn’t really matter whether they will use the opportunity to chose or not. The very fact that they have it is important.

What does freedom mean for you?

My first PDP

I have been contemplating long enough about starting writing on a regular basis and it never happened. I was really impressed by the Personal Development Project that Kristina Miller did more than a year ago which involved writing one post every day for 30 days. I wanted to complete this project myself, but I always found thousand excuses why every day was the wrong time, so I never did. And I know the reasons. One is perfectionism, or exactly what Kristina is referring to in her blog when she brings in the concept of being precious described so well by Scott Berkun.

Here is why I want to challenge myself with this PDP:

  1. To commit to something to get me more disciplined. If I always fail at having stuff done, I need to put special measures in place.
  2. To get rid of perfectionism (at least to a certain extent).
  3. To prove to myself that I can do it.
  4. I think it’s fun. Many times I started writing something but then I decided it’s not good/interesting/new enough and gave up. Then years later I found drafts, they turned out great and I blamed myself for not finishing them! This is exactly what being precious means. I was initially imagining how picky audience reads my blog, judges it and laughs at me. And I escaped stepping out of comfort zone, because this is what expressing personal ideas in writing is.
  5. To practice writing in English.
  6. To get into the habit of regular writing.
  7. To gain self-confidence.
  8. To keep record of my ideas (I do have ideas sometimes that I consider worth keeping for future 😉
  9. To see whether this project will make any changes in me. This sounds especially exciting!

Ok, so here are the rules: I will make a post every day to this blog. It can be about anything I consider interesting and worth sharing – personal, professional, whatever.

Let’s see where this brings me!

Questions about PR. Or about any other career?

One idea struck me today and I decided to let it see the light and stay  there for me to look back later and smile with indulgence 🙂 The more I work in PR, the more questions I have about this profession.

I read all the time that if you want to be the best in your profession, you have to be inherently curious, you shouldn’t be afraid to ask questions, and dare to approach gurus and learn from them. So here’s my question: Is it always the case? I would say that you need to do your homework and try to figure everything out by yourself before approaching anyone. Chances are you find the answers. But there are more chances that you find more questions 🙂 Or if you wait until you read enough to find answers, you are already lagging behind and lost excitement about seeking for the answer. So here is the question: If I am asking a question in a professional community, does it mean that I didn’t do my homework? Doesn’t it sound unprofessional? Or it depends on the question (and who you are asking)? Professional nuts and bolts change, right? Especially in the fields like public relations. For example, what is a press-release and how does it work? Many argue it’s dead.

Here is what I would ask the professional community:

  • What are your best ways to learn new things in PR?
  • What are the best online groups/communities for PR people?
  •  What are the best meetups?
  • I feels to me that in PR there are no rules, you are never certain about what will eventually work , because every situation is so unique. Will the media pick up the news? Of course you learn from your experience, but there is always a degree of uncertainty. What had worked previously might not work this time.
  • How to get to work with clients whose mission you really care for?
  • How to grow your portfolio?
  • How to build PR strategy when you don’t know what will work and nobody can tell you for sure?
  • How to find a mentor in the profession?
  • How to find a professional who can consult you with your projects?
  • How to grow your media connections?
  • And the most provocative question, in my opinion: Do media connections really matter? Indeed, the fact that you met a journalist at an event doesn’t make it easy for you to sell her another “Uber for Uber”… but it might make it easier 😉
  • Does a startup even need a PR person if journalists prefer emails from founders VS Pr people? – khm-m-m…

Ok, I laid out some questions, now it’s time to do the homework 🙂

Update: As I reed this post over, I realize I know the answers. But I  will let it stay as it is. Just because I think these questions are interesting 🙂

Starting out

Isn’t a possible solution to procrastination problem just starting doing what you’ve planned for a long time? Just sit and start doing!.. Without painful preparation and this I-need-to-do-one-more-thing-before-I-start-oh-and-this-too… And while you start being upset about yourself because you can’t keep your commitments to yourself all good intention is finally and officially over, you shut your textbook with relief and disgracefully sink into Facebook…
So here’s the strategy I’m willing to try: no matter whether you are unprepared and have many unfinished tasks – don’t think too much! In fact don’t think at all, but just start with a tiny step. You can fix typos later, erase dumb thoughts (which you will later find interesting by the way), revise and rewrite. But start no matter what!
I read somewhere that procrastination happens to perfectionists. Here’s the proof that being perfectionist is counter-productive. If you want your final result to be beyond ideal, you delay work out of fear that you won’t perform well enough and this fear only does harm you! Here’s another interesting conclusion: don’t be perfectionist! If you don’t want your plans to stay only plans forever, get rid of perfectionism, pretend you don’t care about the final result and just want to play and see what happens later. Pretend you are a bit irresponsible and careless! I will try to follow this and see what will it bring me to!…
What do you think about these strategies?

About opportunities

I recently had a very interesting conversation with my husband. I asked him, if he ever wished he’d had someone smart and experienced to talk to about certain life choices he was about to make in the past.

He said yes but not quite talk about life choices. Rather, – he said, – I wish I had someone who would ask me the right questions. For example, “do you know you have an opportunity that can potentially change your life? Why don’t you take it?” He said that looking back at his life he now sees great opportunities he didn’t use, because he simply didn’t see them back then. For example, while working at his first job as a QA at Netscape, he could have tried to switch to a developer role and learn from the best of the best people in the industry who were all working at Netscape at the time.

So, the question my husband brought up is why we don’t see opportunities that are available to us? Why we often see these opportunities years later and think: “Why on earth didn’t I do this and that?.. This was such an obvious thing to do…”

Here’s what I think. Sometimes we aren’t thinking about looking for these opportunities. We are comfortable with what we have and are therefore not looking into changing anything. We might just not want to step out of our comfort zone. Or we might just not being visionary enough regarding our future. Or simply lazy… J

Second, sometimes we see too many opportunities or paths and cannot choose the right one and go for it. And this “blocks’ our vision and ability to act.

Third, sometimes we don’t take opportunities seriously or don’t believe they are worth extra effort. This happens because we don’t believe in ourselves. “Why-bother-if-I-am-not-good-at-it” sort of thing.

In any ways, this discussion made me think differently about my life. I definitely have great opportunities right now! And you do, too! We just need to look for them, make choices and act. Which is also not so easy, I agree 😉

Celebrating Social Media Day with Mashable and General Assembly

I like going to meetups. It’s a great way to meet new people, practice your marketing pitches whatever they might be, and of course great tool in job search. I wish there were meetups in Russia where I am from, because it is a great way to find like-minded people and it is very convenient, too – no commitment to attend future meetups and no fear to feel like an outsider. Just show up and share you story: where you are or where you want to be!

social media meetup

On Tuesday last week I went to a meetup organized by Mashable and General Assembly on the occasion of the Social Media Day. Mashable’s Pete Cashmore came up with the idea of this day in 2010 to celebrate the universal potential and infinite expansion of social media across the world and all facets of people’s lives. Nowadays this day is celebrated worldwide in the beginning of July.

Continue reading Celebrating Social Media Day with Mashable and General Assembly

Me?! Coding??.. Yes!

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Last Saturday I went to a workshop at General Assembly called “Tumblr, WeWork + GA Present: Summer Blog Party”. In fact, I was interested in a blogging workshop, and recently my job search mentor Michelle told me about General Assembly. I was excited about what this education startup does and decided to check it out when I have a chance. General Assembly is an education company that specializes in online and offline classes focused on teaching practical skills in digital industries, such as digital marketing, business, growth hacking, design and coding. I have been interested in digital marketing lately and at this time I am studying for a final exam for a Coursera class called “Introduction to marketing” (which is awesome, by the way!)

Continue reading Me?! Coding??.. Yes!

“If it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you.” ― Fred DeVito