Simple Ways to Take Charge of Your Healthcare

Discover the small steps that can make a big difference for your well-being.

Taking an active role in your healthcare can help you feel your best now and down the road. While this sounds simple enough, it isn’t always easy to ask your doctor difficult questions or make sure all your providers are in the loop. But when you don’t team up with your doctors and talk openly with them, it can reduce your overall well-being. In fact, research has found that the health of patients with conditions such as depression, diabetes, and high blood pressure is at risk due to misunderstanding, forgetting, or ignoring advice from their healthcare providers.

The good news is that it doesn’t have to be this way. The following strategies will help you take charge of your well-being and get the guidance and support you need.

Find Your Best Primary Care Physician (PCP)

When looking for a PCP you trust, it helps to take a word-of-mouth approach: Ask friends and family members for recommendations, suggests Michael Hanak, MD. He’s an associate professor of family medicine at the Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. Then, look the provider up online to see if their interests and style feel like a good fit for you.

Staying up to date on preventive care can help you stop a problem before it starts. Or it can help you catch a problem early when it’s easier to treat. So don’t wait until your doctor says you’re overdue for your mammogram or tetanus shot. Instead, ask now which screenings, checkups, and immunizations you need and when. You can also check out the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force’s screening timetable. You’ll find recommendations for when to get screened for breast and colon cancer, diabetes, osteoporosis, and other conditions.

You can keep track of it all the old-fashioned way by jotting it down on a paper calendar. Or get a helping hand from a digital health management tool. These simple smartphone apps can help you schedule key appointments and set reminders so you don’t forget.

Get More Out of Every Appointment

A doctor’s visit is often limited to 15 to 20 minutes. To make the best use of that time, “Prepare a priority list or agenda containing 3 to 5 items,” says M. Monjur Alam, MD. Dr. Alam is a primary care physician at UC San Diego Health. And be sure to take your list with you so you don’t forget anything.

If any of the topics on your list feel difficult or embarrassing, remember: Your doctor has heard it all and won’t judge you. It might help to start by saying, “This is difficult to talk about” or “I’m a little embarrassed about this.” It lets your doctor know to be extra empathetic toward your feelings, Dr. Hanak says.

Know Your Next Steps

Before you leave an appointment, be sure you understand exactly what your doctor wants you to do. Also, find out when they want you to come back. “Schedule follow-up appointments at the end of the visit. And try to keep the appointment as planned,” advises Dr. Alam.

He also recommends using any communication tools that are available to you in the electronic health system. Again, a digital health management app can help. Or ask your doctor’s office about a patient portal. These tools can help you keep up with any test results or treatment plans.

Get a Second Opinion

Perhaps you have a health condition that’s complex, or you’ve been newly diagnosed with a serious illness or injury. In both cases, it’s a good idea to get a second opinion on your best course of treatment. And don’t worry about hurting your provider’s feelings. “No physician has an issue with that. We recommend second opinions all the time, even about our own judgments,” says Dr. Hanak. “We all want the best outcome for you, the patient.”

Contact your health plan to see if you’re eligible for Wellframe.

Keep Track of Your Care History

Thanks to electronic health records, it’s easy for your doctors to stay up to date on your care. That includes the specialists you’re seeing and prescription medications you’re taking. Want to go the extra mile on keeping everyone in the loop? Forward messages or records from other physicians or snap pictures of them with your phone and share them with your doctor. “If you have a CT scan or an x-ray, get the images on a disc. Bring it with you to your doctor appointment,” advises Dr. Hanak.

Use Reliable Resources

Want to read more about a health condition or injury? Ask your doctor to suggest trustworthy sources of information. Government agencies are a good place to start. Dr. Hanak offers these examples:

  • National Institutes of Health.
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  • National Library of Medicine.

The same is true of nonprofit organizations that are dedicated to specific health conditions. Dr. Hanak recommends:

  • American Diabetes Association.
  • American Heart Association.
  • National Osteoporosis Foundation.

Taking these steps are just some of the ways to play an active role in your healthcare. Remember: When you speak up, ask questions, and stay involved, you get to enjoy the benefits of a healthier, happier life.

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