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Navigate your health ... safely

  • Published
  • By Col. Bret D. Burton
  • 375th Medical Group commander
I didn't mind the tour of Tulsa, Okla.; I just didn't expect to add an additional hour onto our trip back home. Unfortunately, I asked too few questions of my bride (the designated navigator), did not plan ahead by reviewing the map, and should have trusted our son (the chooser of the restaurant destination) to keep us on the right path (he was checking the map, I wasn't listening). By the time we finally arrived at the restautant, we were all close to blows--my fault. Knowing not only the destination, but the route to take and whom to trust is likely the most important way to navigate a journey--in road trips and life trips alike.

Nationally, your healthcare system is focusing on helping you be a better participant on the journey of your wellness during Patient Safety Awareness Week. This article may serve as an introduction to a set of navigational tools with the opportunity of helping you and your healthcare provider get to the right plan of care. A requirement of success is you taking an active role in working with your team to help them put all of this information together to find the right diagnosis of your health concern. Your health technicians, nurses, and providers will need to ask you questions about your current wellness and medical history (make sure they all hear the same story), do a physical exam, order some tests if needed, then come up with a list of possible diagnoses that may be causing your current symptoms and narrow it down to a recommend treatment course.

When your healthcare team asks you questions you need to tell your story well. Be clear, complete and accurate with your description. Take time to think about when your symptoms started, what make the symptoms better or worse, are your symptoms related to taking medications, eating a meal, exercising or a certain time of day? Write down some notes and bring them with you; a family member or close friend may be able to help you with this.

Being a good historian and record keeper encourages you to remember what treatments you have tried in the past and if they helped. Think about how your state of health has progressed over time, and consider your family's medical history and if you may be at risk for similar illnesses. Keep your own records of test results, referrals, and hospital admissions; keep an accurate list of your medications, and bring your medication list with you when you see your provider, nurse or pharmacist.

If you have more than one provider for your health, make sure to share with each provider the same story so each person can consider what the other is thinking and planning. Make sure each doctor knows all of your test results, medications, or other treatments. When tests or studies are done concerning your health, make sure you and your provider get the results; don't assume that no news is good news--call and check on your test results, then ask what the results mean and what needs to be done next. Ask when you need to make another appointment to follow up once you start treatment, what to expect from the treatment, and what you need to do if you get new symptoms or start to feel worse. Sometimes your diagnosis is the most "likely" thing that is wrong with your health, but it may not be the "right" thing. Don't be afraid to ask "What else could this be?" and encourage your healthcare team to think about other possible reasons for your illness.

We all must be informed consumers regarding the healthcare process. Learn about your illness by looking at reputable sites on the Internet, like www.medlineplus.gov, or visiting a local library. Learn about the tests or procedures you are having done and learn about your medications--such as knowing the name of your medication (both generic and brand names), for example: Tylenol (brand name) and acetaminophen (generic name) are the same drug, different names. Know what the medication is supposed to treat, the amount (dose) you need to take, and the time you need to take it during the day. Understand the side effects to watch for and if the medication interacts with any food or drugs.

Your health journey is comprised of many steps, ensure you have the right navigator, a clearly-marked map, and are equipped as a sojourner to keep your eyes on the destination of wellness and your ears on your team of professionals to prevent any missteps along the way. No need to take a tour of Tulsa, unless you really want to in the first place.