Take steps to reduce your risk of disease and talk to your health care professional about your health concerns. Women now demand more from medical research and from the health care system. As a result, more women have become partners in their medical care, working with their health care professionals to make medical decisions. Here are several tips that you can follow to be an active partner in managing your health.
- Be an informed consumer. Read as much as you can about health and wellness strategies and about any specific health conditions you may have. Ask your health care professional to recommend sources you can trust. Be sure to review any recommendations you read about with your health care team. Health-related Web sites, such as http://www.healthywomen.org produced by the National Women's Health Resource Center, and other Web sites produced by major health organizations are good places to start. Look for .org, .gov and .edu Web addresses to help gauge their reliability and accuracy.
- Know your family medical history, and learn about other factors that may put you at higher risk for disease.
- Maintain a healthy lifestyle. Exercising, developing and maintaining a healthy diet, not smoking and managing stress can help keep you healthy.
- Always ask your health care professional for a full explanation of any pharmaceutical or other treatments she/he prescribes, including the side effects that you may experience.
- Schedule regular medical checkups and screenings to monitor your current health and identify potential problems early.
- Seek a second medical opinion if you feel you need more information. This may be especially important if you ever face surgery or treatment for a chronic or life-threatening illness. Your health insurer may also require a second opinion.
- Be aware of disease symptoms. Know when to seek medical care and where to turn if you develop symptoms.
Learn the Benefits and Risks
The terms "benefits" and "risks" are tossed around quite a bit. What do they really mean when referring to your health? A benefit is something that can increase your well-being. A risk is something that could potentially cause harm, which you should be aware of. When someone suggests you are "at risk" for developing a particular disease, it means that you have a greater chance of developing the condition than someone else without the same risk. But it does not mean that you will absolutely develop the condition. In many cases, you can do a great deal to minimize your risks.
When we are healthy, making a decision about medical care seems straightforward. Your goal should be to get as much information as possible, learn and understand the benefits and risks of certain medications, procedures, or medical options and make a decision with the guidance of your health care professional that best meets your needs.
When diagnosed with a chronic or serious medical condition, suddenly the balance shifts — we are in a new, unfamiliar territory, yet we are expected to weigh the benefits and risks of treatments and to make the same types of decisions regarding our medical care. But often, when we are ill or confronted with a diagnosis, we are overwhelmed. Decision-making may seem impossible. Physical and emotional stress can stop us in our tracks.
There are several steps you can take to become a partner in the health care decision-making process with your medical team — in sickness and in health — that can help make your experience a positive one. These steps can help you assess the benefits and risks of the medicines and other treatments that are recommended for your condition, so that you are comfortable with having made the best decision for you.
1. Modern medicine continues to evolve. Medical researchers are continually asking new questions and studying new theories about all types of diseases. This means that we do not have all the answers we need to treat many illnesses. Making medical decisions involves reviewing the most current knowledge available and making the best choice based on this information. Your health care professional should have the most up-to-date medical information, and you should feel comfortable asking her or him about the latest treatments for your condition.