Are you a good health consumer? Or are you like some residents of Maquoketa and elsewhere who say “it’s all too overwhelming to think about” when trying to decide on everything from which vitamins to take or if you may need hospice care in the future?
Either answer is OK since it’s common knowledge that the current world of health care can be quite complex and confusing. Not just all the medical conditions out there, but the process of diagnosing and treating them, followed by determining how to pay for some or all of these products and services.
The team at Above and Beyond Home Health Care and Hospice encourages our clients to learn all they can about their own health, which will help them make better decisions and feel more confident in what conditions they have, what they’re taking, and perhaps some of their overall health goals.
This is the general way to become a good health consumer, even though everyone’s definition can be a little subjective.
The short definition of being a smart health consumer is that you have enough correct information to make your own smart health choices, along with feeling empowered to do something about them.
Certainly, this doesn’t mean to always self-diagnose yourself and demand certain medications. Or that you never go to your primary health provider, thinking that you know more than he or she does.
But it could mean that you’re willing to have discussions with your provider, ask lots of questions at every visit, and get them to share why they recommend a particular medication or course of therapy.
Many providers do enjoy the opportunity to educate and have a good dialogue with patients, especially if it helps dispel some misinformation or disinformation around certain topics or conditions. Or it gives them a chance to share new information with someone who may not have had a great medical foundation to start with.
If your provider has a limited schedule, others in your local medical community will likely want to share their knowledge about their area of expertise, such as a pharmacist or even a home health nurse. Or, if they don’t know an answer themselves, they usually know a reliable source where you can go to get a more qualified answer.
Be cautious online
Generally, most reliable health experts are unified in suggesting that you limit your time looking for information on the Internet, especially social media. While some answers are likely out there, there’s usually more information than you need, mixed with personal opinions, anecdotes, commercial information, or political views.
Part of being a good health consumer is knowing what information is reliable and which information is questionable.
For the most part, blogs or information sites attached to a specific institution, especially one that receives public funding, is accredited, and receives Medicare funding, are considered to be more reliable than a Facebook page that isn’t clear on who the owners are, who is creating the content, and any sort of medical background.
Yes, some site owners do use their lack of formal medical knowledge as an asset and a point of pride, that they’re “not the establishment,” but if you’re seeking legitimate information to help your health, for the most part, ‘the establishment’ should be where you look first.
Or, if you discover interesting information that relates to your current condition, being a good health consumer can include trying to get it verified by someone you trust.
For instance, your provider’s office likely will be happy to take a look at a link or a study you’ve found that you have questions about. They may have their own take on it or present additional information that may not have been included in what you found – sometimes, complex medical data is made more simple to be understood for mainstream readers, but it may change the context or actual findings. Maybe it was debunked, maybe it was abandoned, maybe it was inconclusive. Or maybe they want to do their own research through their own professional channels and then get back to you. They also could give similar studies with different conclusions.
Learning to be a good health consumer doesn’t have to mean questioning or challenging everything. It could just mean being more aware of your health and being a good advocate for yourself.
For instance, it could mean focusing on preventive medicine, like making sure to schedule follow-up appointments and regular screenings, rather than relying on the provider’s office to contact you or waiting until you notice symptoms.
This could include routine procedures, like an annual physical or eye exam, a mammogram, or a colonoscopy. Being proactive in scheduling these procedures accomplishes two important things: it shows your provider and their staff that you’re serious about your health, and it also can help alert you (and your provider) to possible conditions which can be treated, long before they’re noticeable. Plus, even if nothing is found and things are good on a particular visit, it’s still a good feeling to know that you’ve taken that step for yourself.
For those interested in learning more, February has been designated National Wise Health Care Consumer Month, an opportunity to learn more about the medical field and your own health.