The official definition of health literacy is an individual’s ability to “obtain, communicate, process and understand basic health information and services” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Put in simple terms, to be able to communicate with your health providers, feel as if you have been listened to, and have all of your questions answered. Why should you care? Because your health decisions are vital for you taking care of yourself and being your own advocate. This means staying on top of your health care needs, being informed and learning to be assertive as needed. Because the reality is, nobody cares about your health as much as you do!
Here are my top 5 tips to prepare you to make more informed health decisions.
1. Be Prepared
I recently accompanied my husband to the cardiologist. Prior to the visit I put together his most recent lab work, his updated medications (our specialists often don’t communicate with each other) and questions and items that I wanted to discuss during the visit. It was all very efficient. All of our questions were answered, he left with tests ordered and given a follow-up appointment to discuss the results.
2. Have a Goal-Oriented Visit
Think about the purpose of the visit, and what you feel you need to accomplish. Are you in for a routine check-up? Go online, and see what the recommendations are for your age, for example, age 50, you should get your Shingrix vaccine. Do you need other vaccinations? Do you have anything you are concerned about? Have a clear idea of the purpose of the visit before walking through the front doors.
3. Write it All Down
Before your meeting, make sure you have everything in writing. Write down your symptoms and any concerns you have. It is really important to bring a copy of all the medications that you are on, doses, and frequencies and who prescribes them for you. Remember, doctors often don’t communicate with each other. A great resource to have all your notes and copies of your medical records with you is to have copies on safely stored in your TAMVOES account. This way they are quick and easy to access using your iPad or cell phone.
4. Verbal Confirmation
At the end of the visit, if you are given any instructions, repeat them to the doctor to be sure you understand what you will do. Also, if a test is ordered, discuss how you will get the results. Will the doctor call you? What happens if there are abnormalities? Can you call? Have everything discussed in the appointment and the next steps repeated back to you and document them if you can. This adds a layer of accountability, if the next steps change--- you can tell your physician that it was not discussed.
5. Don't Loose Sight of the End Goal
While this may seem frightening and overwhelming (and annoying, after all, why should you do the doctors work for them?) once you get the hang of it, it is pretty easy and feels so empowering. The bigger picture is how you navigate these conversations; with confidence and purpose will ultimately determine the type of care you will receive, and you deserve the best!
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