Getting healthy by getting involved with your care

August 15, 2016

Are you comfortable telling your provider if a treatment isn’t working?

Are you willing to give yourself a shot to manage a disease?

Do you spend more time talking at your medical appointments than your doctor?

These are examples of behaviors of patients who are engaged, who assume an active role in their care and feel that they are partners in creating treatment plans.

A study of 30,000 patients in Minnesota found that involved patients are generally healthier and have medical costs that are 8 to 21 percent lower than less engaged individuals.

These results have led medical practices around the country to emphasize patient education and partnership. Here are some ways you can get engaged:

Have a primary care physician. According to a 2016 Robert Wood Johnson Foundation poll, one in four adults in the U.S. do not have a regular doctor. Establish a relationship with a medical team by scheduling a routine checkup and preventive screenings.

Set short-term and long-term goals. Do you want to dance at your child’s wedding in 20 years or walk to the end of the street without getting out of breath? Share your goals with your medical team; they may have resources to help.

“Behavior change requires perseverance, even when faced with setbacks,” said Brenda Chapman, clinical coordinator for the medical practice transformation team at Finger Lakes Health Systems Agency. “It takes more than one attempt.”

Prepare for your appointment. Bring your prescription medicines, non-prescription medication, vitamins and dietary or herbal supplements. Bring a list of symptoms, questions and current readings, such as your weight and blood pressure.

Ask questions of your medical team. Ask providers to repeat themselves if you didn’t understand. Take notes or have someone you trust accompany you to the appointment.

Get involved in making health decisions. Patient and providers should make treatment decisions together based on patient preferences, medical evidence and clinical judgment. To accomplish this, you need to have a good dialogue with your providers.

“If you are not communicating well with someone on your care team, find a different person to work with,” Chapman said. “It might be a licensed practical nurse or a person at the front desk. It’s all about your relationship with the people who are in the practice.”

Get educated on health issues. Reputable sources include talks at area nonprofits, hospitals, libraries, community centers, church health ministries and community health workers.

For example, UR Medicine’s Center for Community Health offers free monthly talks at the Rochester Central Library, 115 South Ave. (The next talk is “HIV/AIDS and other STDs: Are you at risk?” at 12:10 p.m. Sept. 15.)

Medical information from reputable sources on the internet may be able to supplement, but not substitute for, the information your doctor gives you.

Participate in your care at home. Patients are being relied upon to do more medical tasks at home. Ask for written instructions, brochures, videos or websites to complete those tasks. Call your doctor with questions. There are also many smartphone apps that can help you track your medicine or manage chronic diseases.

Speak up to get help. If you can’t afford a copay, deductible or medication, or if you lack transportation or housing, let your medical team know — they may have resources to help. In the Rochester area, call 2-1-1 to get help with these barriers.

Request copies of your medical records and study them for errors. Get complete medical records from your doctor’s office. You can also get test results through such secure online portals as UR Medicine’s My Chart and Rochester Regional Health’s MyCare.

Amy Kotlarz is a communications specialist with Common Ground Health. Contact her at (585) 224-3121, amy.kotlarz@commongroundhealth.org or on Twitter at @amykotlarz.

This blog originally was posted in the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle. Used with permission.