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How To Take An Active Part In Your Health Care

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To take an active part in your healthcare, consider each of the following steps

Learn about your health condition.

  • In order to make informed decisions about your health condition, it is necessary to learn about your health condition. As the saying goes: "Trust but verify."
  • With knowledge, discussions with your doctor will be more precise. They will also be faster, which will leave more time in your sessions for other matters you want to discuss. And, last, but certainly not least, you'll have an informed background against which to make decisions.
  • Becoming educated enough to make an informed decision doesn't mean you have to become an expert with knowledge equal to a doctor's. That's her contribution to the decision-making process.
  • At least, it is helpful to learn:
    • What your condition is and what it does to your body.
    • The normal progression (while understanding that the norm is about statistics. Statistics are aboutlarge numbers of people and the past, and do not predict what will happen with any individual in the future.)
    • The various treatments available.
    • The markers that let you know how you are doing.
    • The medical jargon.
  • Good sources of medical information are:

Choose each of your doctors with care

Determine what kind of relationship you want with your doctor

  • There are basically two ways to work with a doctor:
    • You can turn the decision about your health care over to the doctor.
    • You can participate and act as partners. As partners, you each bring to the table what you can. Anything that's worthwhile gets discussed and agreed to before a decision is made. If there is a difference of opinion -- yours wins.
  • The participatory route may end up with the same result as the "turning-it-over-to-the-doctor" route because your ultimate decision may be to go along with the doctor's opinion. The difference is that you made an educated decision after considering the facts and your personality.
  • Many of us grew up thinking of doctors as the ultimate authority figures: whatever the doctor suggested, that's what we did. We took whatever tests, treatments and drugs were recommended, and saw whoever the doctor wanted us to. That attitude came about during a time when doctors took whatever time was needed to personally care for patients, medical care was more simple, and medical information wasn't easily available to people with no medical training as it is today.
  • Participating in health care and making the final medical decisions is more stressful and more work than letting a doctor make decisions for you. However, studies show that health outcomes are better when you take control and become informed. It's also likely to be better for your mental health because you feel more in control. To learn more about why patients taking control is the norm today, see A Case For Why Patients Should Participate In Their Own Medical Care

Keep a Symptoms Diary and a List Of Questions and Concerns

  • It is likely that early in every appointment, your doctor, will ask something like: "Please tell me your symptoms since the last time we saw each other." The answer is part of your participation in the process. The doctor needs the information. You are the only person that has it.
  • It may seem easy to answer as you're reading this, but it's not so easy when there's a time pressure, you're uncomfortable in an examining gown, and possibly in pain. It may be easy to remember what happened yesterday, but the day before, and the week before, and maybe even the month before?
  • The answer is to keep a Symptoms Diary on a daily basis, a continuing list of your questions and an updated List of Medications.  We provide a Symptoms Chart.  With the push of a button, the Chart becomes an easy-to-read graph. We also provide a sample List of Questions. With the push of a button, the questions are reordered into your priority. Our List of Medications is easy to keep up-to-date.
  • If you prefer to keep your own diary, a simple notebook or a file in your computer will do. Include in your diary a daily log of your symptoms:
    • Describe the symptoms
    • Note the severity (for example, pain on a scale of 1 -- 10).
    • Write down what you did about the symptoms and how effective what you did was in reducing or eliminating the symptom.
    • If you have new unexpected symptoms or if expected symptoms are of an unexpected severity, call your doctor and let him or her know.
    • Any and all changes in the drugs you took since your last appointment (including over-the-counter drugs, vitamins, and herbs). This is worthwhile even if the doctor you're seeing is the one that suggested the changes.
    • Notes on what happens each time you see any doctor.
    • A separate section for:
      • Questions for the doctor as they come up. Don't worry about whether the questions seem trivial or not. You can cull through them prior to your meeting with the doctor and only ask the ones that continue to seem worth discussing. Limit your questions to the doctor to your health, treatment and medications. (If your questions relate to day-to-day matters, such as questions about home care, save them for the doctor's staff instead of the doctor.)
      • Things to do at the next appointment. For instance, if you need a drug renewed, or forms to be completed by the doctor.

Have an annual physical.

  • Specialists are not likely to look for any health conditions other than the one for which you are seeing them. Just because you have one condition, doesn't mean another one can't crop up. In fact, the older you get, the more likely that is to happen.
  • While other health problems may seem secondary to your life changing condition, left untreated they could quickly become as serious. Nearly half of deaths in the U.S. can be blamed on changeable behavior, such as diet, rather than on genetics or infectious diseases.
  • Bottom line, no matter what your age, if you have had a diagnosis of a serious health condition, it is advisable to have an annual physical.

Keep in mind that nutrition, exercise and rest are an important part of your health care. To learn more, see our articles about Nutrition and Exercise.

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