I AM SO EXCITED ABOUT THE FOLLOWING 10 TIPS!!!! I truly think that this information will empower you to take control of your health. The tips are also helpful for being the best healthcare advocate for a loved one. I have included lots of links to reputable sources of evidence-based recommendations and medicine as well.
YOU CAN become the best and healthiest version of yourself!
YOU CAN get the best care possible out of your doctors and other health care providers!
YOU CAN have excellent experiences within the (imperfect) American healthcare system!
You just gotta know how.
- Get a primary care doctor (that you like!)
- Know your medical history
- Get age-appropriate screening tests
- (Try to) be compliant
- Find the right compromise between Western and Alternative medicine
- Know where to get reputable online information
- Be kind to your healthcare providers (and a word on advocates in medicine)
- Know the right questions to ask
- Master the basic laws of health
- Don’t try to change your whole life at once
If you’re in a rush, just skim the article. It’s long (cause it’s so full of great info!) but I’ve bolded my most salient points.
1. GET A PRIMARY CARE PROVIDER (THAT YOU LIKE)!
- A primary care physician (PCP) is usually a doctor in family medicine or internal medicine that takes care of your general and preventative healthcare, as well as helps to coordinate your care with any specialists you may need. Your PCP should have a full understanding of your medical picture over time, allowing them to become an advocate for you within the healthcare system.
- I can’t reiterate this enough… IF YOU DON’T LIKE YOUR PCP, GET A NEW ONE!!! (For the vast majority of people who have options… In some cases this is limited due to insurance/location, etc). There are good and bad doctors out here in these streets! Do your research, ask around, look up reviews online. If you didn’t like your barber would you just give up on hair cuts all-together? NO! You would keep looking until you found the right one, and then never let them go. And what about your eyebrow lady? If one jacks you up, you’ll wait until they grow back and then find someone better! Take this principle and apply it to your health.
2. KNOW YOUR MEDICAL HISTORY
- Know your list of diagnoses, past treatments and surgeries, current medications and doses, etc. I repeat: know what medications you take and WHY you take them! It’s NOT enough to know that you take a “blue pill” or a “small yellow capsule”. Also your natural herbs, clays, and teas can interact with prescription medications, so you should write them on your lists and tell your physician about them too.
- Depending on how many conditions you have, keeping track of all this information can be a hassle. Some suggestions include:
- Keep a binder with all of your records, up-to-date medication lists with doses, discharge papers from past hospitalizations, allergy lists (including what KIND of allergic reaction you have ie: Does your throat swell when you take a certain medication? Do you get a bad rash?), etc.
- Alternatively, you can take photos of all your healthcare information and medication lists and put it in a folder on your phone so it’s always with you
- Take notes at your hospital visits or clinic visits! Research shows that patients forget around 50% of the information shared during an appointment (often due to the use of medical jargon, doctors talking too fast, or stress).
- Make sure you understand your diagnoses!!! Re-state your understanding to your Healthcare provider. If they are speaking in Doctor-jibberish and you don’t fully get everything, PLEASE be bold and speak up. You have more control over your health when you have a complete picture of what is going on.
- If you are waiting on test results, don’t accept that they will only contact you if the results are abnormal. Always ask for patient portal information so you can check your results, or written documentation of your test results.
3. GET YOUR AGE-APPROPRIATE SCREENING TESTS DONE ON TIME
- YOU CAN SAVE YOUR OWN LIFE by ensuring you get screened on time for potentially deadly diseases! SCREENING SAVES LIVES. The US Preventative Services Task Force has a list of all their recommended screenings for cancers and conditions based on your age and past personal and family medical history. Review this and talk with your primary care physician about the best way to stay up-to-date. https://www.uspreventiveservicestaskforce.org/Page/Name/uspstf-a-and-b-recommendations/
4. (TRY TO) BE COMPLIANT WITH THE PLAN
- If you go to your healthcare provider and he/she gives you a plan to follow… you should do one of two things.
1) Follow the plan or 2) TELL the provider that you don’t want to follow the plan and WHY.
Make your worries and preferences known! Often times, there are alternative plans that will better fit your lifestyle and/or desires. If you only listen to the plan and then leave the office/hospital and don’t complete it as recommended, you can cause yourself unnecessary side effects or a prolonged or worsened disease course.
- You must also understand the plan to carry it out (this goes back to point two). Unfortunately, not every doctor is going to take their time and make sure you are on the same page. This is why you MUST speak up, urging that provider to repeat themselves or clarify the plan for you. If the provider refuses, or is consistently in too much of a rush to do so, it might be a time to go shopping for another provider (back to point one).
- Be an active participant in decisions regarding your health! Although the doctor is the expert on medicine, YOU are the expert on your body and overall health. TWO EXPERTS are communicating to come up with the best plan of action. It takes two.
5. FIND THE RIGHT COMPROMISE BETWEEN WESTERN AND ALTERNATIVE MEDICINE
- Complementary and alternative medicine (ie Ayurveda, Homeopathy, Naturopathy, Traditional Chinese medicine, etc) is best used along with Western medicine. Overall, western medicine focuses more on pathology and treating/curing diseases, while alternative medicine focuses more on total mind-body health and healing. BOTH concepts are important and are more effective when you find the right compromise and combinations. The idea of “integrative medicine” involves combining the two approaches for the best outcomes. If these ideas are important to you, find a physician that explicitly states an interest in integrative medicine.
- Good evidence-based information for alternative medicine can be found at the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health website: https://nccih.nih.gov/
6. KNOW WHERE TO GET REPUTABLE ONLINE INFORMATION
- This is the era of “alternative facts”, so a “google search” is no longer good enough! Don’t get yourself played on the internet. #NASABROOMCHALLENGE. Make sure you are getting your online information from reputable sources. Opt for large organizations with websites ending in .gov or .org or .edu as opposed to blogs or commercial websites ending in .com (not a perfect rule, but it helps). The following are some of my favorite doctor-approved, patient-friendly, evidence-based resources:
National Institutes of Health: https://www.nih.gov/health-information
Cochrane Reviews: https://www.cochrane.org/evidence
Mayo Clinic: https://www.mayoclinic.org/patient-care-and-health-informatio
Cleveland Clinic: https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health
National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health: https://nccih.nih.gov/
7. BE PLEASANT AND KIND TO YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDERS
- Having been on every possible side of this healthcare thing (Patient, Doctor, Family member of a patient), I’ve seen how fatigue, stress and fear can negatively impact our communication with each other. Poor interactions between patients, family members, and providers often lead to poorer care. We don’t always like to admit this, but the truth is: Healthcare providers are people too! If you are rude or unkind to them, they are more likely to avoid you or provide less-than-adequate care. Although doctors take an oath to treat you impartially regardless of who you are or how you are acting, most people are not truly capable of keeping this oath. Providers are HUMAN FIRST, prone to mistakes and pettiness, just like you (but that’s none of my business *sips tea* *inserts kermit meme*). And yes, there are systems in place and standards of care to reduce the effect of human pettiness but in my experience… humans will still be humans. Providers are more likely to put extra effort into patients that they like. AGAIN… I will reiterate that this is not necessarily MORAL or RIGHT, but it is TRUE.
- A word on bias in medicine: Don’t assume your doctor is out to “get you” or harm you… HOWEVER… if you feel discriminated against, you may be right. I’ve seen it time and time again. Unconscious (and sometimes conscious) bias leads to poorer health outcomes for certain communities (racial minorities, LGBTQ patients, poor or homeless patients, etc). This is why it is so important to have an advocate in the healthcare system (DING DING DING, get you a good PCP that you like and trust!!!) to make sure you are getting the best care. You can and should also ask a trusted family member or friend to be your advocate.
- Based on that, I have another point… MY OBSERVATION BASED ON MY EXPERIENCE (I have no data to support this) is that at times, hospitalized patients that never have visitors or family members checking in on them tend to get less attention from the health-care team than others. I don’t think this is intentional, but sometimes there is more pressure to explain things properly or stay longer in a patient’s room when family members and friends are involved and ask questions. Additionally, when a patient is critically ill or unconscious, they are often not able to ask questions for themselves.
8. KNOW THE RIGHT QUESTIONS TO ASK
- Your primary care physician can help you develop a list of questions to ask a specialist when they suggest a procedure or new medications. Here are just a few you might consider: Do I really need this test or procedure? What are the risks? What are the side effects? Are there simpler, safer options? What happens if I don’t do anything? How much does it cost? Don’t hesitate to get a second opinion not only on the diagnosis but also on the course of treatment if you feel uncomfortable with your physician’s plan and especially if you have a rare disease. I repeat: you have the right to get a second opinion.
9. DON’T FORGET THE BASIC LAWS OF HEALTH
N.E.W.S.T.A.R.T. is a great pneumonic to help you remember basic rules for your everyday health and wellbeing.
The US Department of Agriculture creates the national dietary guidelines emphasizing the importance of creating a healthy eating pattern to maintain health and reduce the risk of disease. Look at their website for EASY tips and tricks, particularly if you’re not into fad diets
The American Heart Association recommends 150 minutes/week OR 30 minutes a day of moderate-intensity aerobic activity to maintain good health, sleep better, prevent disease, and improve your overall quality of life.
Make water your go-to drink of choice! Experts say that your fluid intake is probably adequate if you rarely feel thirsty and your urine is colorless or light yellow. For more specific recommendations, Mayo Clinic breaks it down.
Go play outside!!! (but wear sunscreen! sorry… #DERMLIFE haha) Sunlight is great for your mood and your bones… not the best for your skin though (in most cases).
Not sure I need a source for this… Eat ice cream every once in a while, but don’t binge on a whole tub. Working out is good for you, but over-exerting yourself can lead to injuries. Etc, Etc, Etc. Do everything in moderation.
Get fresh air! And stop smoking. I hear you coughing. ‘Nuff said. Resources to help you quit smoking: https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/quit_smoking/how_to_quit/resources/index.htm
Your mom has been telling you this since you were a kid so you already know… Medical evidence suggests that to reach and maintain your most healthy self, on average you’ll need 7-9 hours of sleep daily. Check out the evidence:
For an EXTRA BOOST, I take ONE DAY OFF IN SEVEN when I don’t study, try not to work (except… #Medicine), and try to focus on God, family, nature, and relaxation. For my whole life, I have protected this time, and have seen significant benefits for my mental and spiritual health. For more information on the Sabbath concept:
According to a review of meta-analyses and systematic reviews out of Mayo clinic, most of the data shows that spirituality and religious involvement are associated with better health outcomes and health-related quality of life.
10. TAKE EVERYTHING ONE DAY AT A TIME
- Don’t try to change your entire life at once! Pick one of the above things to educate yourself about and make changes slowly. Don’t give up. YOU GOT THIS, and you’re on your way to becoming the best and healthiest version of yourself. GET EXCITED!
WHOOOOO HOOOO IF YOU MADE IT TO THE END OF THAT, you’re a trooper. Please share this with your loved ones. Leave a comment below if I left out any important tips or if you have any questions!
Until next time,