How Being a Better Patient Can Pay Off

April 7, 2014

You hear it all the time: Take charge of your health!  Live a healthy lifestyle!  But these positive messages may get lost in the rush of day-to-day life as you shuttle the kids to three different after-school activities, skip lunch to get that project done, or cancel your gym membership because you simply don’t have the time or energy to go after a busy day.

But remember, you are the key stakeholder in the state of your own health.  Taking the time to focus on your yourself and be a better patient can significantly benefit not only you, but also your family and your budget.

Regular Check-Ups

A regular check-up with your physician is an important part of ensuring that you maintain your health.  As you age, there are also certain recommended tests and procedures that are advised in order to check for potential health concerns.  Under health care reform, most plans are required to provide preventive visits and services at no additional cost to you.  This means that if you see a provider within your plan’s network, you cannot be charged a copay or coinsurance for these services by your plan.  For a list of these services, including specific services for women and children, check healthcare.gov or call your insurer.

Tell the Truth

So, you have been diligent about getting in to see your physician for regular check-ups and getting all those other, some not so pleasant but necessary, preventive tests.  Great!  But don’t forget that in order for that visit to be useful, you must tell the truth.  Tests can show a lot about the state of your health, but only you know yourself and your daily habits, activities, and symptoms, if any.

If you smoke a pack a day, eat junk food and never exercise, you are not benefiting anyone by telling the physician otherwise.  If you take ten different prescriptions, bring that information with you.  In fact, bring the prescriptions with you.  Or if you regularly forget to take your prescriptions, make sure to mention that too.

Have you noticed new symptoms or something out of the ordinary?  That information could be vital to a diagnosis.  Or it could be nothing.  But unless you mention it, you may be leaving out important information.  The information you share with your physician is privileged.  The doctor’s office is not the place to be embarrassed or secretive about the state of your health.

Patient Compliance

How often have you gone to the doctor, gotten a prescription, and then either failed to fill it, or filled the prescription and stopped taking the medication midway through the recommended cycle?  Has a doctor ever recommended a particular diet to help control your medical condition and after a few days of compliance you decide that french fries are just not a staple you can give up?  We’ve all probably been there.

Remember that your physician can prescribe the medications and advise you regarding next steps in treating the health conditions you may have, but you have the responsibility for compliance with the prescribed course of treatment.   Granted, many of us feel out of our element in the exam room and may not be retaining all the information given to us.  Ask questions.  The Cleveland Clinic offers a list of potential questions to bring with you during a visit.

Bring a notepad and make sure to write down the answers to any questions you may have.  If you feel uncomfortable asking questions, bring a family member or a friend who can ask them for you.  Your treatment plan is developed to manage your health.  Forgoing the recommendations may cause your health condition to deteriorate resulting in a midnight visit to the ER, emergency surgery, or other acute episode that affects your well-being and also, likely costs you real dollars.  Remember, the doctor is there to help you, but you must also be ready to take responsibility for your health.

Take Advantage of Resources

If you have a chronic health condition or disease, do take advantage of the disease and chronic condition management programs that may be available to you.  These are generally available through your insurer, and may include benefits such as educational materials, health coaches, and 24/7 call lines to answer your questions and offer help.  The programs help coordinate your care with your physician, ensuring that your needs are met.  Your coaches are generally registered nurses who can check whether you are on track with your medications and physician visits, helping you avoid acute health issues that result in alarming and expensive visits to the emergency room.  Also, these programs are likely included in your plan premium and do not cause you to incur additional charges.

It’s a fact that regular exercise can have the greatest beneficial impact on your health.  Check with your insurer to see if your plan provides you with access to discounts on gym memberships.  Your plan may even cover the cost of a gym membership altogether.  Your insurer may also offer weight-loss, smoking cessation, and pregnancy coaching programs, among others.

Taking advantage of all that your plan may have to offer, focusing on your health, and most importantly, talking to your doctor regularly and honestly can help you not only manage and maintain your health, but also save you valuable time and money.

This post was written by Julie Borisov from Colorado PERA. Would you like to write a guest post for The Dime? Email us at dimecontact@copera.org.