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Making Wise Health Decisions

Skills for Making Wise Health Decisions

Work in Partnership With Your Doctor - Skills for Becoming a Good Partner - Finding a Doctor Who Will Be a Partner- Calling Your Doctor - The Advice Nurse

The following are some simple steps for you to follow when you have a health decision to make. Depending on the decision, the process may take a few minutes or hours, or as long as several weeks. Take as much time as you need to make the decision that is right for you.

  • What are you trying to decide?

    Tell your doctor that you want to share in making a decision. Ask your doctor to clearly state the decision that needs to be made and what your choices are.

  • Get the facts.

    Learn all about each option by using resources like the library, the Internet, and your doctor. Make sure the information you collect is based on sound medical research, not the results of a single study or facts published by a company that will profit by your using their product.

    In this book, a special icon marks some of the health problems for which more information will help you make better decisions about your care. Read the inside back cover of this book to learn more about where you can find reliable health information.

  • What do you think?

    Think about your own needs and values and what you hope for as the best possible outcome. Then sort out the information you've gathered into a list of pros and cons as you see them for each option. You may want to share your list with your doctor to make sure you have all the information you need.

  • Try on a decision.

    Write down what you expect will happen if you choose a particular option. Ask your doctor if what you expect is reasonable. Ask again about the side effects, pain, recovery time, or long-term outcomes of that option. Then see if you still feel it's the best choice for you.

  • Make an action plan.

    Once you and your doctor have made a decision, find out what you can do to make sure that you will have the best possible outcome. Write down the steps that you need to take next. Think positively about your decision, and do your part to ensure success by following your doctor's advice. Remember, when you share in making a decision, you share the responsibility for the outcome.

  • Work in Partnership With Your Doctor

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    Your relationship with your doctor greatly influences your ability to make wise health decisions and the outcome of your care. Tell your doctor that you want to be a partner in making decisions about your health. Chances are, your doctor will be happy to know that you are interested in taking an active role in your health. Common goals, shared effort, and good communication are the basis of good doctor-patient partnerships.

    Skills for Becoming a Good Partner

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    You can hold up your end of the partnership bargain with your doctor by doing the following:

  • Take good care of yourself.

    Many health problems can be prevented if you protect yourself and your family by getting immunizations, being screened for health problems, and making healthy lifestyle choices. See Chapter 2, Living Healthwise, for more information about how you can have more control over your health.

  • Practise medical self-care.

    You can manage a lot of minor problems on your own. All it takes is for you to trust your common sense and monitor how well your efforts are working. Use this book, your own experience, and advice from others to create a self-care plan.

    • Use the Healthwise Self-Care Checklist to record your self-care plan. Note whether Home Treatment seems to help. If you do end up calling your doctor or advice nurse, he or she will want to know what your symptoms are; what you've tried to do for the problem; and how well what you tried to do worked.

    • Plan a time to call a health professional if the problem continues. If the problem seems to be getting more severe, don't wait too long before calling for help.

  • Prepare for office visits.

    Most medical appointments are scheduled to last only 10 to 15 minutes. The better organized you are, the more value you can get from the visit.

    • Prepare an Ask-the-Doctor Checklist and take it with you.

    • Write down your hunches or fears about what is wrong. These are often helpful to your doctor.

    • Complete a self-care checklist and take it with you.

    • Write down the 3 questions that you most want to have answered. There may not be time to ask a long list of questions.

    Be an active participant in every medical visit.
    • Be honest and straightforward. If you don't intend to take a prescribed medication, say so. If you are getting complementary treatment, such as acupuncture or chiropractic treatments, let your doctor know. To be a good partner, your doctor has to know what's going on.

    • If your doctor recommends a drug, test, or treatment, get more information about the risks and benefits, costs, other alternatives, and the likely outcomes before agreeing to go through with it.

    • Take notes. Write down the diagnosis, treatment and follow-up plan, and what you can do at home. Then read your notes back to the doctor to make sure you have it right. If you think it will help, take a friend along to write down what the doctor says while you listen.

  • Learn all you can about your health problem.

    Throughout this book, special icons mark topics for which more information will help you make better decisions about your care. The information at your disposal--whether you get it from your doctor, the library, or the Internet--is a powerful tool for helping you make wise health decisions.

  • If you have a complicated problem or want to know more about your health options:

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    Calling Your Doctor

    Is it okay to call your doctor? Of course it is. Often a phone call to the doctor is all you need to manage a problem at home or determine if an appointment is needed. Here's how to get the most from every call:

    Prepare for your call. Write down a 1-sentence description of your problem. Then list 2 to 3 questions you have about the problem.

    Have your symptom list handy.

    Have your calendar handy in case you need to schedule an appointment.

    Leave a clear message. Tell your 1-sentence description to the person who answers and ask to talk with your doctor.

    If your doctor is not available, ask the receptionist to relay your message and have someone call you back. Ask when you might expect the return call.

    Follow through. When the doctor calls back, briefly describe your problem, ask your questions, and describe any major symptoms.

    Finding a Doctor Who Will Be a Partner

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    A family doctor (primary care physician or internist) who knows and understands your needs can be your most valuable health partner. A host of specialists who work on separate health problems may not see your whole health picture or get a good understanding of what's important to you. In choosing a doctor there are lots of questions to ask, but these 3 matter the most:

    Training and Experience

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    For most people, a good choice for a family doctor is a college-certified family practitioner. For children and teens, a college-certified paediatrician may be a good choice; ask your family doctor. A doctor becomes college-certified by completing training in a particular specialty area and passing an examination to demonstrate that he or she has the skills and experience needed to practise that medical specialty. Most college-certified family doctors, internists, and paediatricians have broad knowledge about many common medical problems.


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    Because health problems rarely develop when it's convenient, it helps to have a doctor who can be contacted whenever he or she is needed. Before you select a doctor, call or visit his or her office. Tell the clinic receptionist that you are looking for a new doctor. Ask these questions:

    Partner Potential

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    During your first visit, tell your doctor that you would like to share in making treatment decisions.

    Pay attention to how you feel during the visit.

    Is It Time for a Change?

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    If you are unhappy with how your doctor treats you, it may be time for a change. Before you start looking for a new doctor, tell your current doctor how you would like to be treated. Your doctor would probably be pleased to work with you as a partner if only you would tell him or her that's what you want. Otherwise, your doctor may think that you, like many people, want him or her to do all the work.

    The Advice Nurse

    Some medical practices and clinics offer an advice nurse telephone service. Advice nurses are registered nurses who have special training to answer your questions about health problems and help you decide how to manage minor illnesses.

    A call to the advice nurse can often save you a doctor visit or help you decide if you need an urgent or routine appointment.

    Advice nurses can also help when your doctor diagnoses a health problem or recommends a test or treatment that you don't fully understand. Sometimes the advice nurse can answer your questions. Other times, he or she may help you come up with questions you can ask your doctor at your next visit.


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