Understanding health problems can be complex, but we must be our own health advocates—or find someone to be an advocate for us. With all the information available today, there is no room for excuses.
I recently talked to a client whose Type 2 diabetes was affecting his heart and other organs—serious stuff. When I asked him to relate his recent blood pressure readings and fasting glucose—he knew those. But he could not remember results for an important kidney function test and his A1C—a test that shows a 3-month average of his glucose control. These are important test results for a person with diabetes to know and to understand. My client is a math teacher, so it’s not as if he is uncomfortable with numbers—what is evident is that he isn’t advocating for himself.
Certainly all of us want doctor visits, necessary medical tests, and any medical procedure to go smoothly. We are anxious to get these things over with so we can go home and get on with our lives. But more often than not, we have to take control of the situation somewhere along this chain of events. If we don’t, things can snowball and we become lost; we don’t understand exactly what our physical condition is and what we need to do to heal ourselves.
The first steps toward being your own advocate are simple:
- Find a doctor—often we start with the primary care physician (PCP); if a specialist is needed that choice might depend on insurance plans or the ability to cover co-pays and deductibles; check your health insurance, then research physicians by asking your PCP for a referral; you can also talk to friends and coworkers; word of mouth can often help you make a good choice right from the beginning.
- Always ask questions—whether your health situation is minor or major, you need definitions for the terminology the doctor is using, explanations for any procedures you have and certainly careful delineation of your test results. Often medical practices and hospitals provide brochures that explain procedures and lab results in simple language. Keep these for your file.
- Keep a notebook or iPad file on your diagnosis—bring that information with you at each visit; bring new questions that arise and get answers to those questions at each visit. Record them in your file.
- Keep a calendar—don’t miss and don’t be late for anything that is scheduled: lab draws, x-rays, doctor, physical therapy, occupational therapy, dietitian, pharmacy or social worker appointments.
- Research—read, read and read some more. Use your notebook to find medical terms you want to research. With help from the Internet you can flesh out the particulars of your condition or at least become more familiar with its terminology, interventions, surgeries, treatments and medications. NOTE: some doctors feel threatened by clients who research. Just remember it’s your body. There are always polite ways to introduce some material you have found and to ask your doctor to comment on it. If he or she refuses and would rather keep you in the dark—you need another doctor.
Here are some quick tips for understanding common lab results:
BUN–Blood, Urea, Nitrogen: A waste product formed in liver and carried to kidneys, filtered out of blood, excreted through urine. NORMAL RESULTS 7 – 29 mg/dL; A low number may mean malnutrition; a high number may mean liver or kidney disease, heart failure;
CREATININE: A chemical waste produced by muscle metabolism. NORMAL RESULTS 0.8 – 1.4 mg/dL; A low number may mean low muscle mass, malnutrition; a high number may mean chronic or temporary decrease in kidney function;
BUN CREATININE RATIO: NORMAL RESULTS 10:1 to 20:1; A low number may mean malnutrition; a high number may mean blood in bowels, kidney obstruction, dehydration;
POTASSIUM: An electrolyte and mineral. NORMAL RESULTS 3.7 – 5.2 mEq/L; a low number may mean use of diuretics or corticosteroids (such as prednisone or cortisone); a high number may mean acute or chronic kidney failure, Addison’s disease, diabetes, dehydration.
For more interpretations of lab values check out: Understanding Routine Lab Test Results – Lab Test Errors, Abnormalities -AARP
Often an advocate partner is a great idea too. If you have a chronic illness or a form of cancer, there are List Servs online that address concerns about your particular illness. You will meet others who are dealing with the same issues you are. They can be your partners as you advocate for the best health options.
In the end be in control as best you can. Read, research, ask questions. Be your own health advocate. You won’t regret it.