What's My Role?
Here are a few things you can do to start taking charge of your health:
1. Maintain a healthy lifestyle.
Approximately 40% of all premature deaths in the U.S. are due to unhealthy choices such as tobacco use, poor diet, sedentary lifestyle, misuse of alcohol and drugs, and failure to use safety equipment.
The best way to have a healthy lifestyle is something you already know: make good decisions. Which of these healthy choices have you already made?
Healthy Lifestyle Checklist (Print)
- Maintain recommended body weight
- Eat a plant-based diet with moderate portions
- Engage in regular physical activity
- Prioritize healthy sleep
- Don't smoke or use drugs
- Use alcohol in moderation
- Take steps to master your stress
- Nurture strong personal relationships
- Cultivate a healthy personal environment
- Find meaning and purpose in life
Do you follow most of these guidelines? If so, congratulations: You are taking personal responsibility for your own health and wellbeing and decreasing your risk of developing disease! If not, think about how you could become more intentional in your health and change behaviors to increase your chances of living healthier and longer.
Learn more about creating a healthy lifestyle.
Note also that most integrative therapies include treatments or practices that contribute to a healthy lifestyle. For example, meditation and biofeedback offer techniques to master stress and hypnosis can be helpful in smoking cessation. See Explore Healing Practices.
2. Become an informed healthcare consumer.
It’s your right and responsibility to be informed about your healthcare, including:
- Your provider options. Do you know who is covered under your health plan? What is their philosophy of care? You want to find a provider you can communicate with and establish a relationship of mutual respect. You can learn more about this in How Can I Find a Provider?
- Your treatment options. If you have a specific condition or diagnosis, do you know all your options, including integrative therapies? The internet can be an excellent source of information, but you need to use judgment. You can learn more about this in How Do I Get the E-Facts?
- Your healthcare coverage. Do you know which specialists and which hospitals are available to you? Do you know how many visits for services such as physical therapy are covered? For most of us, important decisions regarding health benefits have been made by employers, health insurance companies, and the government, without our participation or input. However, employees can and should give their companies input about what they want in their benefit plans. You can also take advantage of medical savings accounts, which many employers offer, to earmark healthcare dollars to spend as you like. Some people use these accounts to spend more on health prevention or integrative therapies.
- Costs. Know more about the sticker price of your car than you do about the cost of an MRI? Join the club. Until recently, it was almost impossible to get information about the price and quality of healthcare providers and health plans.
This is changing as insurers promote price and quality transparency, publishing the cost of visits and procedures on the web. You can use this information to find a hospital that offers the services and achieves the outcomes that are most important to you.
- Public policy. Public policy impacts your healthcare and that of others. Do you know what the laws in your state are around access to health care? Do you know how to access a consumer advocate when there are issues with insurance companies?
Apart from knowing what there is now—think about what you would like the healthcare system to be. Would you like it to be accessible to all? Have it reward personal responsibility? You can advocate for these qualities through citizen forums and letters to your legislators.
3. Partner with your providers.
Many of us grew up with the idea that the doctor knows best, and we needed to follow medical orders, no questions asked. Today, more and more people are looking for a different kind of relationship with their healthcare provider, whether that provider is a physician, nurse practitioner, or integrative therapy professional.
Instead of acting as a passive recipient, many people now see themselves as active participants in the purchase and application of healthcare. They are selecting skilled professionals to be part of their healthcare team, and they want to partner with these providers.
It is important to recognize that this new partnership model of care requires a change in both you and your healthcare provider. If you have expectations of an equal relationship, you must communicate this to your provider. Open communication and collaboration with your provider requires you to participate fully in the process.
4. Seek help when you need it.
While you need to take charge, it doesn’t mean you need to go it alone. We all need help sometimes, especially when it comes to the often-dizzying array of choices in the medical arena. Here are a few ideas.
- Take a trusted relative or friend to a doctor’s appointment to act as another set of ears and to write down what is said. Be sure they understand that they should listen and not speak for you.
- If you are admitted to hospital, enlist the help of trusted relatives or friends to help prevent possible medical errors, such as incorrect medication. Many hospitals offer social workers, patient advocates, and other services to provide support and guidance.
- If you have a specific condition or diagnosis, you may find it helpful to join a support group in your community or online. These are often offered by hospitals, clinics, or associations, such as the American Cancer Society.
Apart from maintaining a healthy lifestyle, your main role is to become informed about your healthcare options and involved in your own care. Other sections in this topic will give you help in this—offering tips on finding and communicating with providers, evaluating healthcare information, and having a healthy hospitalization.
Creagan, Edward T. (Mayo Clinic physician) (2003). How NOT to Be My Patient. Florida: Health Communications, Inc.
CDC. Physical activity and health: Report of the Surgeon General (1996). Atlanta, Georgia: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, CDC.
McCullough, M. L. et al. (2002). Diet, quality, and major chronic disease risk in men and women: Moving toward improved dietary guidance. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 76, 1261-71.
Raya, Patricia and Mogenis, Corine A. (2008). Medical Tips from the Inside. Jupiter, Flor.: Merit Publishing International.
For more information on creating a healthy lifestyle, visit our Enhance your wellbeing section.
For information about integrative therapies, try the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM).
For more information on being a prepared patient, check out The Center for Advancing Health (CFAH): Be a Prepared Patient.
How much do you already know about taking charge of your health?
Print out the checklist below and fill it out to help identify where you are already well-informed and where you might want to get more information.
|How much do I know about:||Very|
|Healthy lifestyle choices|
|My options for primary providers|
|My primary provider’s philosophy of care|
|My options for specialists (oncologists, gastroenterologists, etc)|
|My options for hospitals|
|Information about my condition or diagnosis (if relevant)|
|My treatment options|
|My healthcare coverage (for clinic visits, medications, physical therapy, diagnostic tests, procedures, lifetime limits)|
|Who acts as advocates for healthcare consumers|