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15 Ways to Be Proactive With Your Medical Care

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It’s easy to feel overwhelmed with our medical system, and visits with your doctor can leave you feeling confused, especially if you feel rushed or were just given a life-altering diagnosis. It’s important to make the most of your visits and become an active participant in your healthcare. The following tips will help you become more proactive and get the most of of your appointments:

1. Take notes. Prepare for your appointment ahead of time by jotting down concerning symptoms or questions you want to ask your doctor. Take notes on what your doctor tells you so you have that information when you get back home. Ask for an after-visit summary that can be printed out, emailed to you or available to you on your patient portal.

2. Bring someone with you. If you have are facing a major, life-changing diagnosis, consider bringing a friend or loved one to an appointment with you. It’s always good to have an extra set of ears when given complex instructions or other information. People close to you may also have noticed how your condition has affected you in ways you haven’t, which can be helpful information for your doctor.

3. Learn about your diagnosis. When your doctor gives you a diagnosis, especially if it’s something major, it’s likely going to be life-changing. Take some time to learn about it. Ask your doctor questions, research it on reputable, evidenced-based sites, and please learn how to spell it! At least within reason. I’m not a very good speller myself, and I understand  medical jargon can be lengthy and confusing, but this is your health, and it’s important to take some ownership. You may writing this word for the rest of your life.

4. Know your medications. Too many people lack basic knowledge about what medications they are on, let alone what they are taking them for. I can’t stress how important it is for you to know what you are putting into your body and why. Your “little white blood pressure pill” could be a number of things. Please, don’t guess. Don’t assume your primary doctor has updated information, especially if you have seen multiple doctors in the past year. While we do send communications between providers, ultimately it’s your responsibility to give accurate information regarding your medications every time you go to the doctor. Always keep an updated list, or better yet, take the actual bottles with you so they can be reviewed with you at your appointment. If you still have questions, have your doctor or nurse explain things to you in a way you understand.

5. Don’t forget to mention supplements. If you are taking herbal supplements and over-the-counter medications, your doctor needs to know about these too. Certain medications can interact with supplements. Supplements can even interact with other supplements, resulting in serious, even catastrophic health problems. Your doctor needs to know what you are taking, so any proper adjustments can be made. Don’t assume “natural” equals “safe.”

6. Know your allergies. If you allergic or have intolerable side effects to certain medications, you need to know the names of those and what type of reaction you had. It’s just as important as knowing your medications. Saying you are allergic to “some antibiotic but I can’t remember the name” cannot only delay treatment, it can potentially be dangerous or even deadly if your doctor says you need antibiotic therapy.

7. Don’t neglect that yearly physical. People often skip their yearly physical because they feel fine. In reality, this is one of the best times to see your regular physician. It’s good to see you when you are well so your doctor can get a baseline to compare when you don’t feel so good. Often, things like high blood pressure and cholesterol start creeping up long before you “feel” anything is wrong, if you ever develop symptoms at all. It’s best to catch things early so you can have the best outcome possible. Yearly physicals are also a good time to review any other health screenings recommended for you based on your age, current health and health history.

8. Know your family history. Genetics play a role in your risk factors for developing certain diseases. You don’t have to know every little detail of every family member, but at least try to learn if your parents and grandparents had any major illness or diseases, including diabetes, heart attacks, strokes and cancer.

9. Be honest about your habits. When you go to the doctor, likely you are going to be asked about your use of tobacco, alcohol, illegal drugs and your sexual activity. While these can be uncomfortable or embarrassing topics, it’s important to be honest. The information you give us is not used to judge you. It can, however, determine what medications to use, dosages and other health issues your doctor needs to be watching you for.

10. Utilize your pharmacist. Do you have questions about your medications? Not sure what time of day is best to take them? Are you concerned about side effects or interactions? Your pharmacist has a wealth of knowledge, and a call to them can often get you a faster answer than waiting for a busy clinic to return your call.

11. Discuss natural remedies. If your doctor wants to put you on medication but you prefer to take a natural approach, let your doctor know. Despite what you may hear, your doctor does not work for the drug companies and likely wants to keep you off medication too. This of course depends on the situation. If your blood pressure is extremely high, you are likely going to need a prescription. But if it’s a minor ailment, natural remedies might be a better approach. Be open with your doctor. Every time I have discussed using essential oils or other natural remedies for myself or my children, 100 percent of the time, I have gotten a positive response from my doctor. I have used natural remedies, with their approval and agreement to call back if what I was doing wasn’t working. Your doctor can guide you on what is safe for you in regard to your other medications and health issues.

12. Ask questions! When it comes to your health, there are no bad questions, only unasked ones. Your healthcare team wants you to get the most out of your appointments and understand the information given to you. If you don’t speak up, they don’t know if you don’t understand something.

13. Don’t neglect lifestyle changes. Diet, exercise, smoking and alcohol use play a huge role in the prevention and development of most chronic diseases. Don’t forget to discuss these with your doctor as well. If you are started on medication, there should also be a discussion about lifestyle modifications. If your doctor doesn’t bring it up, you should.

14. A physical therapist can be your new best friend. If you have an injury or chronic painful medical condition, ask your doctor if physical therapy is an option. Often physical therapy can get you feeling better from a wide array of medical conditions and off those pain medications faster. If your doctor agrees, a therapist will do an evaluation and determine if therapy is appropriate. They will then set up an individualized treatment plan with you.

15. Be your own advocate! I can’t stress enough how important it is to be your own health advocate. Always! If your doctor is saying something you don’t agree with, you feel like something is being missed or you are not being heard, say something! If you remain silent, your doctor might assume you are on the same page. You are an important piece of your healthcare team. Don’t be afraid to ask for a referral or second opinion. Still don’t feel like you are being listened to? Find another provider that is a better fit.

Originally published: March 19, 2018
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