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Start the New Year with Patient Empowerment Resolutions

Posted Jan 5th, 2009 by Trisha Torrey

As we round the calendar corner to a new year, it’s a great time to begin stepping up to make yourself a smarter and healthier patient.  Here are some resolutions you might consider to get yourself started:

Resolution #1: Develop partnerships with your providers.

No matter what medical problems confront you, you’ll have a better chance of weathering them if you work in partnership with your doctors and other providers. Take your doctors down off that pedestal you’ve put them on, and begin looking at them as your resource, not some kind of paternalistic God with all the answers.

Ask plenty of questions. Review and research information provided to you. Ask for definitions of difficult words. Speak up when you need better explanations.

Medical decision making is your responsibility, and your physicians should be your primary go-to references for options. Collaborate with your providers to arrive at the best decisions for yourself.

Resolution #2: Be smart about drug prescriptions.

According to the Institute of Medicine, more than 1.5 million Americans are harmed by a prescription drug each year. There are several causes. There may be a problem with the drug itself, the wrong drug or the wrong dosage may be prescribed, or the prescription may not be filled correctly. Some problems stem from non-compliance, meaning, the patient fails to follow instructions.

Take responsibility for your prescription drugs. Make sure your doctor prescribes the right drug, in the right dosage, with the right instructions for taking it. Be familiar with side effects, and which ones should flag a call for help. Ask questions of your doctor, then corroborate his orders with your pharmacist. Be sure to take the drug in the right dosage at precisely the right time, while avoiding foods, beverages or activities that may interfere with the drug’s ability to help you.

If you run into problems, don’t just stop taking any drug.  Instead, contact your doctor’s office and explain what the problem is, even if the problem stems from the cost and not the drug’s effect on your system.  Let them help you resolve the problem.

You have no drug taking babysitters.  If you don’t do it for yourself, no one else can do it for you.

Resolution #3: Find an advocate before you need one

Rarely are any of us prepared for a difficult diagnosis. Finding an advocate in advance can make it easier to handle the news and activities which follow.

The best person to ask is someone who works in healthcare – a doctor, nurse, therapist – someone with some medical training, even if they are retired. Family members aren’t your best choice – it’s difficult for someone who loves you to be objective. Find someone who is organized, available, and who can command respect from those who will participate in your care including doctors, hospitals, testing sites and insurance companies.

Sharp patients will embrace all three resolutions in the New Year, and as a result, they’ll enjoy the best medical outcomes.

I wish you good health and a dose of patient empowerment for 2009, and many years to come.

 

About the author

Trisha Torrey is Every Patient's Advocate. She is a newspaper columnist, radio talk show host, national speaker, and the guide to patient empowerment at About.com.

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