Saturday, November 3, 2012

Simplify: Take Control of Your Health

Whether you are a fan of Obamacare or not, you have to admit that something has got to be done about the state of health care in the United States. The cost of health insurance is rising at an astounding rate, our doctors don't have time to talk to their patients any more, and our out-of-pocket expenses keep going higher and higher. In reality, we are paying more and more and receiving less and less.

Some proudly boast that we have the best health care in the world, but the facts show that that just is not true. When compared to other developed nations, we lag behind in more areas than we like to admit.

You Are Responsible for Your Own Health

It sure as heck isn't your doctor's responsibility. He or she can't follow you around to make sure that you do what they recommend. Your doctor may know what you need to do to stay healthy, but they also know that you probably won't do it. I think it's time to grow up.

Smoking, drinking alcohol to excess, and obesity cause the worst health care problems in the developed world. We all know this. We've know it for years. Yet is just keeps on getting worse.

If you smoke, stop. End of discussion.

Alcohol can be healthy because it helps us relax after a stressful day. But it becomes unhealthy after two drinks for men and only one for women. Really, how many times do you need to be told? And no pouring larger glasses.

Why is it that Mexico and the English-speaking countries (all of them) have so much more problem with overweight children and adults than the rest of the world? It all boils down to calories in vs. calories out. Just like in accounting class, the columns have to match or you have a problem. Exercise daily. Eat more fresh fruits and vegetables and less meat, fat, and processed foods. Yes, it IS as simple as that.

Unnecessary Tests and Procedures

The American Board of Internal Medicine Foundation asked doctors from nine specialties to list the five tests and procedures from their area that are overused and most likely to be unnecessary. They came up with a list of the top 45 tests and procedures that could actually cause harm instead of helping, including two that I've always questioned:
  • Pap smears for women who have had hysterectomies for non-cancerous reasons.
  • Pre-op chest X-rays without any reason to suspect problems.
You can see all of the lists at Choosing Wisely. They don't say that you should never have the tests, just that you should question the reason for it and discuss it with your doctor before you agree to it. Don't agree to a test or procedure until you understand:
  • Why do you need it?
  • Exactly what will they do and how do they plan to do it?
  • What are the possible consequences or complications?
Don't agree until you feel comfortable that you understand what they are saying. It is your body and you have the right to make the decisions. That's what "informed consent" is all about -- you can't give it unless you know what they are talking about.

Hospitals are Dangerous Places

A hospital is the last place I want to be if I'm sick. Those places are full of germs, no matter how hard they try to keep them clean.
  • Between 25 and 35 percent of hospital patients suffer harm from adverse events during a hospital stay.
  • Every six minutes a patient dies in an American hospital from a hospital-acquired infection.
  • Medication errors happen every day in the hospital.
My youngest child was diagnosed with Leukemia when she was three. Her doctor did everything in her power to make sure that she had a private room if it was at all possible so that people visiting another patient wouldn't bring infections into the room. She also strongly encouraged her patients' parents to stay at the hospital with their child. I hate to think of the number of times that someone wanted to do something that I just knew was not what her doctor had ordered. My daughter needed me there all the time to be sure that things were done right.

But adults need someone, too. A person who is sick enough to require hospitalization is often not in any condition to be making important decisions or keeping track of what medications or treatments the doctor has ordered. Everyone needs a mommy sometimes.

One of the reasons that hospital care in Mexico is less expensive than in the US is that patients here are expected to bring a friend or family member with them to take care of day to day stuff. Nurses don't waste their time helping patients to bathe or dress or even eat -- that's what the helper is for. Nurses clean wounds, change dressings and administer medications.

Take Charge of Your Life

In the end, we must all take responsibility for our own health. Avoid all of these problems by doing everything in your power to stay healthy.

Be proactive. Look everything up on the Internet. Ask a lot of questions. Find out all you can. Make sure you know what is going to happen and why.

Insist on receiving copies of the results of every test you have. You paid for them. You have a right to them. Be sure that every doctor you see knows:
  • What other health care professionals you are seeing and why.
  • What tests you've had and why. And now you have results so you can share them.
  • What medications you are taking. How much? (And know the side effects, danger signs, and possible complications.)
If your doctor has only five minutes to spend with you, he sure as heck doesn't have the time to contact your other doctors to find out all this stuff.

And don't forget... Don't smoke. Drink less. Get lots of exercise. Eat your fruits and vegetables. Take a multi-vitamin. Wash your hands more often.

And keep reading my blog!

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