Kaitlyn Parrotte, PT, DPT
Board-Certified Clinical Specialist in Orthopaedic Physical Therapy (OCS)
Certified Functional Manual Therapist (CFMT)
The new year is in full swing, and many of us have set goals to help start things off with renewed energy. One area in which, many people make goals in is health. While some folks vow to go to the gym regularly, or eat healthily, many other individuals commit to having medical check-ups, or taking care of a long-festering issue, such as a painful knee or abdominal pain. No matter what type of healthcare provider you are visiting, it is imperative that you come prepared to make sure you are getting all the facts, and are able to advocate for yourself to ensure you are receiving the best treatment for you.
Come with a Plan
One way you can advocate for yourself is to come prepared to a medical consultation by bringing a list of questions and subjective information with you. Be prepared to discuss what is bringing you to see that health care provider. What symptoms you might be experiencing? When these symptoms began? What makes you feel better and worse? How your symptoms make you feel limited in your daily life, and what you are hoping to get out of seeing that practitioner (i.e. a referral to a specialist, pain relief, etc.,.)? Many questions can arise during a medical examination, so don’t be afraid to ask for clarification, and make sure you understand the information you have been given. Research has shown, that individuals who ask specific questions about their health, may receive more comprehensive care. For example, in a 2015 article from the Journal of Family Medicine and Community Health, researchers found that when older patients were more proactive with communication to their doctors, primary care physicians were more likely to recommend both cancer screening and cancer prevention to their patients.1
On Second Opinions
When you receive a medical result, do not be afraid to get a second opinion. People seek out second opinions for various reasons: to get reassurance on a treatment protocol, to confirm the findings of a particular healthcare provider, to verify the reputation of a given institution, and even due to patient dissatisfaction in the communication or relationship with a practitioner.2-3 Whatever your reason, know that it is your right to have a second opinion to ensure you are getting the best possible care. Some research has found that second opinions have changed the diagnosis and/or course of treatment. In two studies that look at different patient populations with cancer, they found that in cases where a specialized practitioner was consulted, the accuracy of initial staging for a diagnosis increased, treatment and management of the condition was affected in about 20% of cases, and unnecessary surgeries were prevented in about 7% of cases.4-5 Thus, getting a second opinion can be very beneficial to you. Whether it changes the course of a treatment, or simply reinforces what you have already been told, seeking a second opinion can help you make educated decisions regarding your care.
Consider Both Risks and Benefits
If you are given a diagnosis and are informed of your treatment options, make sure to ask about, and consider, the risk-benefit analysis for each. The “risk-benefit analysis” is defined as “the consideration of whether a medical or surgical procedure, particularly a radical approach, is worth the risk to the patient as compared with possible benefits if the procedure is successful.”6 What this means is, it is important to weigh any treatment’s potential outcome on your quality of life, as well as your values and goals, when determining what route of care you’d like to embark on. If the risks outweigh the benefits for you personally, then it may not be a treatment worth trying. However, that is a very specific and personal decision, that must occur between you and those close to you, under the guidance of your health care provider.
Prevent Illness Before it Happens
While it is very important to be well-informed and prepared for a visit so you can better advocate for yourself, taking steps to prevent illness or injury in the first place, is crucial to promote overall well-being. Two major changes you can make in enhancing your health are diet and exercise. According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2015-2020, 117 million individuals, which is about half of all American adults, “have one or more preventable chronic diseases,”7 which include cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, some cancers (i.e. colorectal and postmenopausal breast cancer), and poor bone health. Theses chronic diseases are related to poor quality eating habits and physical inactivity. Furthermore, more than two-thirds of adults, and nearly one-third of children, are overweight or obese, which is associated with increased health risks and higher healthcare costs.7 Key recommendations for a “healthy eating pattern” include: eating a variety of vegetables, fruits, grains, proteins, and oils, as well as fat-free or low-fat dairy, while limiting saturated fats, trans fats, added sugars, and sodium.7 Research has found that most Americans do not eat enough fruits and vegetables. However, those that do tend to eat more fruit at breakfast and in snacks throughout the day, while more vegetables are consumed at lunch and dinner.8 This is something that can be added to your routine easily to ensure you are consuming a balanced diet.
As previously mentioned, physical inactivity can contribute to poor health; however, engaging in regular physical activity helps improve your overall health and fitness, and reduces your risk for many chronic diseases. According to the 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, adults aged 18-64 need at least 2 hours and 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity (i.e. brisk walking), and at least 2 days of muscle strengthening activities that work all major muscle groups (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders, arms). The same recommendations are given to older adults over the age the 65 years.9 That may sound like a lot of time that you don’t have; however, the CDC reports that engaging in aerobic exercise for even 10 minutes at a time can be beneficial.9 So get on your walking shoes and start power-walking to your appointments, or to the breakroom at work!
Ok. That was a lot of information, so here is a recap:
- Being well-informed and prepared with questions for medical consultations allows you to better advocate for yourself, and may help you to receive more comprehensive care.
- Seeking a second opinion, especially when considering a major medical procedure, is something that is your right as a consumer, and can impact your diagnosis and/or course of treatment.
- Considering the risk-benefit of any medical or surgical intervention is important to ensure that a given treatment is appropriate for your quality of life, values, and goals.
- While being educated and engaged when dealing with a medical concern is important, helping to prevent illness or injury through diet and exercise are critical for maintaining a healthy life.
If you are saying to yourself, “this is too overwhelming; there is no way I can do this!”, then I will leave you with a quote from Audrey Hepburn: “Nothing is impossible. The word itself says I’m possible!” You have the information; now it is time to get out there and start leading a healthy life, so the energy and inspiration of the new year keep ringing all year long!
- Kahana E, Lee JE, Kahana B, Langendoerfer KB, Marshall GL. 2015. Patient planning and initiative enhances physician recommendations for cancer screening and prevention. J Fam Med Community Health, 2(9), pii 1066.
- Mordechai O, Tamir S, Weyl-Ben-Arush M.2015. Seeking a second opinion in pediatric oncology. Pediatr Hematol Oncol; 32 (4): 284-9.
- van Dalen I, Groothoff J, Stewart R, Spreeuwenberg P, Groenewegen P, van Horn J. 2001. Motives for seeking a second opinion in orthopaedic surgery. J Health Serv Res Policy, 6 (4): 195-201.
- Sawan P, Rebeiz K, Schoder H, Battevi C, Moskowitz A, Ulaner GA, Dunphy GA, Mannelli L. 2017. Specialized second-opinion radiology review of PET/CT examinations for patients with diffuse large B-cell lymphoma impacts patient care and management. Medicine, 96 (51), doi: 10.1097/MD.0000000000009411.
- Lakhman Y, D’Anastasi M, Micco M, et al. 2016. Second-opinion interpretations of gynecologic oncologic MRI examinations by sub-specialized radiologists influence patient care. Eur Radiol;26:2089–98.
- “The Free Dictionary by Farlex – Medical Dictionary.” https://medical-dictionary.the freedictionary.com/risk-benefit+analysis.
- U.S. Department of Agriculture & U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2015-2020. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office; 2015.
- Moore LV, Hammer HC, Kim SA, et al. 2016. Common ways Americans are incorporating fruits and vegetables into their diet: intake patterns by meal, source and form, National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 2007-2010. Public Health Nutr; 19 (14): 2535-9.
- “Physical Activity Basics.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 4 June 2015, http://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/basics /index.htm.