Taking Charge of Your Health Care

Reviewed Nov 17, 2015


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Managing your health and making health care decisions can be overwhelming at times. By watching this video, you will learn important steps you can take to become an active and important member of your health care team.

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When asked by your physician, are you able to provide a list of all medications you are taking? Do you feel comfortable asking your doctor to clarify your diagnosis or to give you or direct you to additional resources where you can research your symptoms or diagnosis? Do you track your health by keeping a list of recent medical tests, illnesses, aches, pains, reactions or hospitalizations, both inpatient and outpatient? Do you understand medical terms or procedures and ask for explanations or clarifcation if you do not? For example, you may not know that the word congenital is simply referring to a condition one was born with and is not describing the severity of a condition.

If you answered yes to any of these questions, then you are on your way to becoming your own health care expert. We can provide you with more information that will help when facing health care decisions such as communicating, keeping records and performing research. When you understand and have all of the pieces in place and available to make health care choices, it is easier to make informed decisions about your personal health care.

If you have a medical condition, know that you are at risk of developing one, or want to learn how to stay healthy, do the necessary research. Consult your doctor. Go to the library. Use the Internet - visit a trusted Web site to find information on basic preventive medicine, as well as medical terms and facts about diseases and illnesses. Be sure to check the credentials of the author and publisher to be sure they are not providing biased information because they may be trying to sell a product. Within this website and linked from this video, there are articles identifying highly reputable Web resources for defining medical terms, explaining diagnoses, as well as providing important information regarding diseases and illnesses. You may also have access to other resources that are available to you through your employer or your health plan. By empowering yourself with information, it helps decrease the sense of helplessness and gives you accurate information to help you make better decisions.

Keep your own notes about immunizations and tests (as well as the test results) in a small notebook, on a card in your wallet, or a note on your calendar. Take this with you to all doctor appointments and hospital visits to save a lot of worry and time trying to remember details. Many people see health care professionals as too busy to take the time to answer questions. You are important. Ask what you need to know to allay your fears. You may find it helpful to make a list of questions before you go; if you feel nervous, you can simply refer to your list. If you are seeing a doctor about a specific illness, ask if any new treatments are available. Do some research before your appointment and ask for the doctor’s opinion.

If you are not comfortable with the information your doctor provides or if you are facing a particularly complicated diagnosis, you may wish to have another professional investigate the issue. Physicians encourage second opinions and routinely consult each other on their cases. It is natural to want a second opinion or have another physician consult on the case. This is especially true if you ask questions and your physician says he is not an expert on your issue or you do not receive answers to all of your questions. Sometimes, it may be helpful to ask your doctor how they would approach the treatment if their family member received this diagnosis.

Always ask the doctor what each prescription is for and how to use it properly. Be sure to tell the doctor about all medicines you are taking to avoid dangerous drug interactions (Remember to include all herbal and vitamin supplements as well).

Ask your doctor or do some research to find out which screenings, tests and vaccinations you should have. For example, have you had a TB test recently? Hepatitis A and B vaccines? Have you had a tetanus booster? Ask about a pneumonia or flu vaccine particularly if you are elderly or have lung problems.

If you are not sure whether you need to see specialists such as ophthalmologists, cardiologists or gynecologists, or how often you should to go to these specialists, ask your general practitioner.

These days, you have more than your health to worry about if you fall ill. Your financial well-being could be in danger. According to the National Foundation for Credit Counseling 65% of all bad debts are related to health care bills from people who had insurance. Even with insurance, the high deductibles and co-payments stemming from a serious illness can lead to financial difficulties. There are ways to cut your health care costs. Some ideas include: Choose the most cost-effective facility for care, if it's not an emergency. Ask about financial help and discounts. Health care facilities do not benefit if a patient files for bankruptcy, so they may work with you to identify a solution that will be beneficial for both of you. Look for savings on prescription drugs--consider samples, generics and mail-in options. Some drug companies have special programs to assist those who have received prescriptions for their products. Check bills to ensure they are accurate!

If you are receiving care for a significant medical issue, make sure you have the right tools in place to respond to your patient care needs .

Insist that your needs and preferences are considered and if you are not able, take someone with you that you trust and who understands your needs and preferences . If you have a doctor preference, it should be respected.

Make sure your health care providers are communicating with one another and are coordinating your care. Ask them up front to do so, and check in occasionally to ensure that this continues.

Confirm you have the physical and emotional support you need. Talk with your family about your wishes, needs and values. Ask for their help in evaluating options for care – in weighing the benefits and risks. Confirm you have adequate services in place for your return home or move to a less restrictive level of care. Confirm that logistics such as transportation, access to facilities, and follow up appointments are in place.

Another component to think about is support. It’s vital that you find people whom you can rely on for small and large tasks during the weeks, months, or even years ahead. You may be fortunate to have family nearby or perhaps you have some close friends who can help.

Accept differences and the varied abilities of people to help. You’ll find by doing so you’ll create a community of support that helps you and your family during this difficult time. Each family member is likely to have a range of emotions after the diagnosis, and each will respond based on his own style. Some may find the news disastrous; others will try to discount or deny the effects.

The key is to communicate and not make judgments. If one person is upset, don’t judge her as falling apart. On the other hand, if someone is not upset, it doesn’t mean that he doesn’t care. By learning to understand each other’s needs and accept varied reactions, you can then better support each other and keep the family unit healthy and intact.

You may also find that you need other resources outside of your immediate family and close friends that can help you understand your medical benefits, find resources to assist with health care issues that are not covered by your health plan, investigate disease conditions or new treatment options, select a specialist, or identify skilled nursing facilities or other care facilities. You may be able to find this help from your insurance carrier, a local support group, a hospital patient advocate, a national association, an Employee Assistance Program representative, or an independent health care advocate.

Seek out in-depth health and wellness content, including behavioral health, – to include illnesses, tests, procedures, treatment, medications – presented in easy to understand language with visuals. Talk with your doctor about this information—see how it applies to you. In the event the doctor is out of town or on vacation, ask who to talk to if you are unable to reach your own doctor. Find out, as much as possible, what to expect.

After receiving a diagnosis of a medical condition, give yourself and your family some time to adjust to the new circumstances. It is important to acknowledge the change and new circumstances the family is now facing and validate the stress that it could be having on everyone in the family. Talking and discussing various options on how to handle the new situation is also a good way to process and manage the anxiety or other feelings families may be experiencing. Remember to monitor your expectations. This is probably not something you have previously had to manage. It is important to remain optimistic and some time to adjust to the new circumstances. Flexibility is important during times like these and roles will likely need to change - on an ongoing basis.

Don’t expect everyone to be on the same page at the same time. One person may be quite upset; another may be slower to process what’s going on. This actually works to keep the family functioning. One member can take charge of daily tasks while another finds ways to cope.

An important way to help to prevent errors is to be an active member of your health care team. That means taking part in every decision about your health care. Research shows that patients who are more involved with their care tend to get better results.

Use these suggestions to guide you in taking charge of your health care. These simple tips will help to empower you and provide effective ways to take charge of your health care.

Please remember, you and your family have access to trained counselors and professionals who will provide confidential assistance. Help is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Please contact a representative at the toll-free number on this Web site for additional assistance.




By Julie Gold ©2010-2017 Beacon Health Options Source: Alexander Marmé, MD, University of Heidelberg, Germany; Joanne Lynn, MD, director of the Center to Improve Care for the Dying, Arlington, Va.; European Society for Medical Oncology; American Medical Association; How to Break Bad News: A Guide for Health Care Professionals by Robert Buckman. Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992

The information provided on the Achieve Solutions site, including, but not limited to, articles, quizzes and other general information, is for informational purposes only and should not be treated as medical or health care advice. Nothing contained on the Achieve Solutions site is intended to be used for medical diagnosis or treatment or as a substitute for consultation with a qualified health care professional. Please direct questions regarding the operation of the Achieve Solutions site to Web Feedback. If you have concerns about your health, please contact your health care provider.  ©2017 Beacon Health Options, Inc.



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