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How to be a better patient & have better doctors appointments

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Joan Lunden

Aging Well / / December 02, 2012

Whenever you listen to the news these days, you will likely hear a discussion about health care and health care reform.  This year, candidates continually debated who should get it, how it should be controlled and how we should pay for it.  However to really get to the heart of the healthcare issue in America, I feel you must address the “Doctor/patient” relationship.”  I’m talking about that 5-7 minutes that each of us gets with our health provider when we go for our check-ups.  To improve health care in America in general and to personally be better equipped to control our own future health, we must start with there – we must be a better patient and make the most of that five minute conversation – it truly can determine the quality of your life and your longevity.

Now let’s all be honest, that appointment with your doctor can be intimidating to many of us;  first you have to undress, then you put on a skimpy paper gown, then you must sit up on the cold exam table with your bare legs hanging and wait for the doctor to arrive and “examine” you.  As you sit there conscious of being half naked and your feet dangling above the floor you can instantly feel like a small child being sent to the principal’s office. Yet you are about to be asked important, perhaps life-saving questions and you need to be on the top of your game.

Approximately 80 million Americans have limited health literacy, which puts them at a greater risk for poorer health outcomes.   Communication between patients and doctors is essential for the effective delivery of health care but sometimes there can be a gap between a doctor’s level of communication and a patient’s level of understanding. Over the years, medical care has become increasingly complex and evidence shows that patients may misinterpret or may not full absorb information given to them by doctors.

So how do we make the most of our doctor’s visits?

First of all we must be the CEO of our own health.  No one knows more than you about your body and how you’ve been feeling; if you’ve had digestive issues, blood in your urine or stool, if you’ve been coughing more or sleeping less.  It’s up to you to keep track of all that, chronicle it and have it ready for your doctor along with your family medical history.  You can only expect your doctor to be able to properly assess your health risks if he has all of this information.

If you haven’t had the conversation with family members, parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles to create your family medical history, then you need to do that and your need details; for instance if your father had polyps in his colon, you need to know how old he was when they were first discovered.  If it occurred in his forties that would then mean that you should have your first colonoscopy earlier than the recommended age 50. That piece of information could actually save your life. 

With the holidays upon us, a time many of us spend with our families and it’s a wonderful opportunity to speak with family members about what medical conditions they have had, remind them that this could be a life-saving piece of the puzzle to your own health management.  Then make sure that you pass this information on to your doctors so that they can make an assessment of your personal health risks.  

Approach each appointment with a doctor like you would any other important business meeting, go in with a complete list of all medications and supplements that you take on a regular basis, that family medical history and also a list of any questions you may have -- people often forget what they were going to ask their doctor when they are in their exam and nervous.  Ask your doctor about any changes you’ve noticed in your daily health and be honest when he or she asks if you have been eating health, exercising regularly or smoking or drinking.  You are not there to impress them you are there to get an honest evaluation of your health and potentially life-saving recommendations.

Practice active-listening with your doctor – listen and then repeat to them what you believe they are telling you. This allows the doctor to make sure that you fully understand their diagnosis and their recommendations. Take notes and make sure that as you leave your check-up you know your blood pressure and your blood cholesterol levels (this requires a simple blood test and the doctor should call you with the results within a few days – if you don’t hear from them make sure that you call to get the results). 

You should keep track of all of this information and track your exams.  By keeping this list close at hand you will know when you are due for your next check-up, eye exam, mammogram or colonoscopy.  There is actually a new name for this kind of list; it’s called a PHR, or Personal Health Record.  In fact there are a number of new apps to help you with this, but however you collect and store the information it is critical that you keep it current so that you can stay on top of your health. It is one of the most important documents you will ever make  -it empowers you to have control over your state of health and your longevity and to stay ahead of disease.

I want to share with you, a terrific new health campaign to help you become a better patient and to better understand what your cholesterol or blood pressure numbers actually mean to your overall health.  It’s called “Cholesterol Conversations: It Take’s 2.” It was developed by Merck and I got involved as the spokesperson for the program because I feel it is unique in its approach and very effective.

The campaign has a website called www.cholesterolconversations.com which I recommend you check out.  The web site offers downloadable tools, like a list of questions to take with you to your doctor, and it has a series of short video clips that are basically a “training program” to teach you how to be a better patient.  If you watch them, I’m certain that your next doctor visit will be more successful, and allow you to guard your health and control any chronic situation, and protect your future.

Cholesterol convesations
Categories: Health, Healthy Living
About The Author
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Joan Lunden truly exemplifies today’s modern working woman. An award-winning journalist, bestselling author, motivational speaker, successful entrepreneur, one of America’s most recognized and trusted television personalities, this mom of seven continues to do it all. As host of Good Morning America for nearly two decades, Lunden brought insight to top issues for millions of Americans each day. The longest running host ever on early morning television, Lunden reported from 26 countries, covered 4 presidents and 5 Olympics and kept Americans up to date on how to care for their homes, their families and themselves.

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