When I worked in hospitals, I noticed many patients had trouble becoming an active participant in their healthcare, for various reasons. To address this concern, I spoke to Dr. Nancy Snyderman, Chief Medical Editor of NBC News and my colleague at CarePlanners.
She told me the following story about how she takes control of her healthcare by “partnering” with her physician.
Because her father was diagnosed with colon cancer and her grandfather died of it, she gets regular colonoscopies since turning forty, as do her siblings. The first time she had one, her doctor found an abnormal polyp and removed it. It wasn’t cancer, but she believe it was headed in that direction. Each year on her birthday, she schedules the necessary battery of tests—a physical, a pelvic exam, a mammogram.
Doing this gives her a sense that she can control certain aspects of her life and her healthcare. Every three years, she have a colonoscopy. Again, that may be too often for some of you and not often enough for others, but that’s the point. She gets what she needs—what she believes will keep her engine going.
She feels very comfortable with the screening procedures she’s have outlined for herself, and I believe you have to be just as comfortable with whatever you and your doctor establish for you.
Here are some other tips that Dr. Nancy gave me about partnering with your physician:
- Discuss: Sit down and talk about the tests and decide which of them you need, in addition to your annual checkup. There is no such thing as a “routine” screening or checkup, either, since everyone is different. We all can gather information, look at our family trees and how we have lived our own lives, and forecast the reality of what may lie ahead.
- List: If it’s too much to think about all at once, sit down and make a list of the diseases or conditions for which you may be at risk—and those you have now. Put pen to paper and take a few days to be thorough. Talk to your doctor about what tests should be individualized to your needs and at what age you should start getting them.
- Prepare: Jot down questions and concerns: I have periodic headaches. Is this a sign of tension, a hormone imbalance, an injury, or some other condition? I’m not sleeping well. Should I take some sort of medication? I have some moles that seem to be changing. Should I see a specialist? My bowel habits are irregular. Is there a test I should have? Also, bring in a list of all medications you’re taking—including prescription medicines, over-the-counter drugs, and dietary supplements you are currently on or have stopped taking within the last month. List how often you take them and what dosages.
Lastly, remember: It’s your body—not your doctor’s—so be an active participant in your health.
Crystal Fornes is a nurse practitioner and patient advocate with over 10 years of experience. She is also helping Dr. Nancy Snyderman, Chief Medical Editor of NBC News, start CarePlanners, a company that helps patients and caregivers make better decisions as they navigate the healthcare system with expert support and personalized technology.