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The Life You Save May Be Your Own

Disclaimer: I am not a doctor. However, Teresa and I have done quite a few podcasts and blogs encouraging you (and us!) to be better advocates for ourselves when we go to the doctor. During our recent conference, Teresa led a mini-workshop on nutrition and health where we discussed what to do to advocate for ourselves during interactions with medical personnel. I wanted to capture some of the points we discussed to hopefully give a clearer example of steps to take as an advocate. Below are some tips to help you prepare to get the most out of your medical appointments.

· If you are going for a specific illness or problem. Take a few minutes before your appointment to jot down what you are experiencing. What hurts or feels odd? When did you first notice there was something wrong? Be prepared to tell your physician exactly what you are experiencing. Now is not the time to be vague or shy about what is going on with your body. You don’t need to share gory details with your neighbor, but you absolutely need to share pertinent information with your physician. Share what you have done to try to address the issue.


Bring a written list of all medications and supplements you are taking. Include the exact dosage. (I’m a bit anal so I actually take bottles of my supplements with me. When I visit the doctor, I take a lot of stuff. I take my medication bottle, supplements, a sheet with my blood pressure readings, my exercise log and the blood pressure monitor that I use at home. I take a reading with my blood pressure cuff in the office, compare it to the one they use to make sure its accurate. Remember: High blood pressure is the silent killer. If my home monitor is giving me false readings, I may unknowingly be at risk for a stroke, hard attack or other complications that arise from dangerously high blood pressure.


Take in a list of written questions. Don’t just rely on your memory. Going to the doctor can be stressful; it becomes even more stressful if you get bad news. You may not remember what you wanted to ask when the doctor is actually with you. Yes, WebMD and many other resources are great; however, they can’t replace your physician who has your medical records and knows your medical history. He or she is the best resource. (If they are not, then you need another physician.)


If the doctor uses phrases or medical terms that you don’t understand, don’t hesitate to ask them to explain it to you. Don’t be intimidated by the white coat and don’t feel embarrassed about asking them to “break it down for you.” They have been to medical school and you have not. That’s their job and you can’t help them do their job if you don’t understand what steps you need to take or changes you need to make to improve or maintain your health. If your physician doesn’t have time to explain what they are saying or seem annoyed when you ask for clarity then see the last line of the directly preceding bullet and act accordingly.


Take notes of what your physician said during the visit. Again, you may forget and having the notes can help you stay on track and can serve as motivation for you to follow through on your plan of care.


If lab work was done, review your lab results. Look at what test results indicated that you were within the normal range and look at the ones that indicated you were not within the normal range. Look up the terms to see what the tests measure and why they are important. When I get my lab results, I look at the full report. Sometimes it takes a few days, depending on my schedule. I just look at all the results I can at that time, mark where I left off and then return to the next particular result when I resume my review. I look at every result. If I don’t understand something or if I am confused, I send my doctor an email with specific questions or requests for more information. I compare this year’s lab results to the lab results from last year to better gauge how I am doing overall.

While I am not a physician (and due to academic problems with chemistry, I will never be mistaken for one) this is my body and it’s up to me to speak up when necessary. I can’t abdicate that responsibility to anyone else as long as I am competent enough to do so. My very life (and the quality of it) depend on it.

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