2009-02-13 / Columnists

PHC Health Talk

Take Control Of Your Healthcare (Part 1)
Commentary by Howard L. Sussman, Md. / Chief of Surgery, Peninsula Hospital Center

Dr. Howard Sussman is Chief of Surgery at Peninsula Hospital and has maintained a private practice in Belle Harbor for 30 years.

Our healthcare system is expensive, confusing and intimidating. Thus, it is now more important than ever for patients to actively participate in managing their own health and to learn to navigate through the system.

This is particularly critical for patients who have more than one doctor, each managing a separate disease and prescribing different medications and diagnostic tests.

To help you better safeguard your own health, here are a few thoughts to keep in mind:

—Keep a health-care journal and update it daily or weekly, depending on your circumstances. Note the onset of symptoms and any changes to those symptoms; keep track of your medications including which doctor ordered them, the name of the medicine and the dosages (all this is right on the bottle's label).

—In a separate section of the journal, keep a list of all of your physicians, their specialties, addresses and telephone numbers.

—In the journal, keep track of procedures (dates, results, etc.). Note, too, that you should always get copies of test results, whether for routine blood work, screening tests or any other procedure.

—Make certain you know the benefits and requirements of your health insurance plan: bring your insurance card; know if your insurer requires prior notice for referrals for specialists or second opinions. Know requirements for co-payments and deductibles.

—Fill all of your prescriptions at the same pharmacy; this provides for a double safety check for possible conflicting medications. And the more complete the pharmacist's records, the better for you.

—Patients naturally tend to become more nervous in the doctor's office, so it is natural to forget information, be it a complete list of symptoms or questions you have about your health. In the quiet and comfort of your own home, write down what you need to tell your doctor and what you want to ask him. Take the list with you and methodically go through it with him or her. Most importantly, if you don't understand the answer ask the question again and again until you do understand.

—Consider bringing a family member or close friend with you. Two sets of ears often hear things differently and respond with different questions. And if the news is upsetting — and you naturally lose focus — you want someone there who will continue to gather information and dialogue with the doctor on your behalf. Also, they can comfort you and assist you home.

—If your doctor recommends a specific procedure, make sure you ask him to explain it thoroughly. Make certain to ask about her experience in giving the procedure. Remember always, you and your doctor(s) are partners in your care. If you have even the slightest reservations about a diagnosis or a suggested procedure or test, always seek out a second and even third opinion. But just as importantly, do not delay or disregard the advice of your physician.

Part II will be published next month.

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