Sunday, February 24, 2002
Steamboat Springs February is "Wise Health Care Consumer Month" a good time to reflect on steps you can take to get the most from your health care.
First, it is critical that you take an interest in your health. In other words, become involved in your health care. Wise health-care decisions can lead to decreased visits to health-care providers and hospital emergency departments. Be an active member of your health-care team and be a full partner in making decisions about your health care.
There are many things you can do to take better care of yourself on a daily basis: drink plenty of fluids; wear sunscreen; get enough rest; walk instead of driving whenever possible; exercise regularly; follow a healthy, well-balanced meal plan; take care of your mental and physical health; and so on.
Additionally, you can take various steps to improve your health care. Effective health-care provider-patient interactions can help with proper diagnosis and treatment. Therefore, it is important for people to feel comfortable with their health-care providers and to advocate for themselves.
Advocating for yourself means getting what you need out of every visit. Asking questions is very likely the most crucial part of advocating for yourself. Patients need to remember that they deserve thorough and clear explanations and information. If something does not make sense or if you have concerns, ask for clarification or for additional information on the topic.
Ask about all your options. It is likely there is more than one way to manage or treat the condition. Ask about benefits, risks and side effects of treatment.
When a laboratory test is ordered, ask what it is for what is it measuring and why? How will the result affect your condition, medications and future testing? When you receive the test results, ask for an explanation or interpretation of what the letters and/or numbers stand for.
Ask about prescribed medications what is it, what does it do, what are the side effects? Be aware of routine medical tests and how often you need them and make sure you are getting them as needed.
Keep a "health journal" where you can record your questions, records of your medical history, test dates and results, medications and doses, dates of visits, immunizations and allergies. Take it with you to every health-care provider appointment. Make the most of your time at each visit to avoid unnecessary calls and repeat visits.
Other ways to advocate for your health and health care are to seek expert advice when needed and take advantage of your resources, which include local health-care agencies and providers. Be cautious when looking on the Internet for health information Web sites that are sponsored by the government or universities are generally the most reliable.
In Routt County, we have several services that are free to the consumer, sponsored by Yampa Valley Medical Center. The Community Health Resource Center is a health-care lending library; volunteers are happy to assist with Internet searches on virtually any medical topic. ASK-A-NURSE provides telephone advice and referral to physicians, if indicated. The "Taking Care of Me" community education series provides discussion on a different topic each month.
Finally, have a good understanding of your health insurance plan know what is covered and what is not covered. Start being a wise health consumer today!
Jane Dickinson, R.N., Ph.D., CDE, is coordinator of the Yampa Valley Medical Center Diabetes Education Program.