Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Be Your Own Strongest Patient Advocate

Within the U.S. population, 50% of all Americans have a chronic medical condition, whether that is diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, asthma, or another health condition.  Patients need to become their own strongest patient advocate for their own health concerns, if they are to have the highest benefit from their medical provider visits, the medications they take and the lifestyle changes they are trying to incorporate. 

But how do patients do this?  How do they become their own patient advocate?  First they need to become educated about their own disease.  Patients can help themselves by using the internet to acquire health information on their disease and information on how to deal with it, as well as the necessary lifestyle changes that should occur.  But patients need to know which internet websites are reliable and which ones are not.  Not all websites are created equal and have solid medical information on them for patients.  Some of the most reliable ones are: www.webmd.com, www.mayoclinic.org, http://health.nih.gov, or www.clevelandclinic.org. 

Patients also need to know the side effects of the medications they are on.  This will allow them to know and understand what to expect, when to contact their physician about a medication side effect which needs to be addressed and when they can ignore it. 

Patients need to see their primary care provider on a regular basis for the best management of their disease process.  They need to interact, ask questions and become a team member with their provider regarding how to best deal with their chronic condition.  Patients need to be an active participant in the process. 

Another way of becoming your best patient advocate is by acquiring your preventive care on a timely basis.  Is it time for you to receive your colonoscopy, your mammogram, your pap smear, your prostate exam, for instance.  If it is, make that appointment and keep it.  If you need a tool to see what preventive care you are due for do a internet search for ‘preventive health care’ and you will find several websites which will list out for you the recommended preventive health screenings which should be done at the various stages during the adult lifespan. 

Know your family genetic history.  There is important information here.  Did either of your grandparents die of colon cancer, or breast cancer?  Is there heart disease in the family, if so, what kind?  Is there high blood pressure in the family genes?  Is there diabetes or asthma?  All of these you need to know about and tell your primary care provider about.  They can then help you determine whether you need to be screened for them and if so, when. 

Lastly, patients can become their own strongest patient advocate even on a daily basis.  They can do this by caring about themselves and their family members.  Patients can stop smoking, start exercising, lose the excess weight, change their diet to include more fruits and vegetables, decrease their saturated fat intake as well as their red meat intake.  To help yourself lose weight, keep a food journal.  Patients can deal with the stressors in their life, and get the recommended sleep per night. 

Overall, take small steps to change your life and become the strongest patient advocate you can.  Take consistent steps towards a better you, a more healthful you.  Be persistent.  If at first you don’t succeed, don’t give up.  Keep at it, you will make it if you just keep putting one foot in front of the other towards your goal.  Remember, in the end, you and your family will both benefit. 

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