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Take Charge of Your Health

Navigate the health care sector

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Take Charge of Your Health

Navigating the health care sector can be intimidating. And ensuring you get the best care possible from your team of health care practitioners isn't always easy.

Navigating the health care sector can be intimidating. And ensuring you get the best care possible from your team of health care practitioners isn’t always easy.

However, there are several strategies we can implement that will save us and our health care team time, thus saving money and, ultimately, getting us back to feeling like ourselves again.

Take the lead

The abundance of information available has made it possible for us to take a more active role in our health care.

Lynn Cooper, president of the Canadian Pain Coalition, says this couldn’t be truer. “The days of us being passive patients are over,” she says. “Our health care system is overburdened, and we have to think about getting involved. This is true with alternative treatments too.”

Cooper speaks from personal experience, having been treated for chronic pain since 1986 following a work accident. She says she thinks of herself as a team leader; the health care practitioners she seeks help from are her “knowledgeable, wonderful, caring consultants.”

Educate yourself

Whoever said knowledge is power was on to something. In terms of our health, this means learning everything we can about our symptoms and, if a diagnosis has been reached, our condition. This can be done in a number of ways, and in today’s technological age, the Internet is often our first resource.

However, this is not always the best approach for several reasons. First, anyone with Internet access can call themselves “experts,” providing health or medical advice with no real medical background. Second, using the Internet as a medical research tool can induce stress in those prone to worrying. In fact, because of the Internet, a new condition dubbed “cyberchondria” has emerged whereby hypochondriacs surf the net, increasing their anxiety.

But the Internet is not all bad—in fact, there are several online resources that are backed by scientific research and are vetted by health professionals.

Sharon Gurm, naturopathic physician and founder of Port Moody Naturopathic Health & Wellness, says, “Generally, medical websites tend to be the most reliable sources on the Internet.”

However, she still touts old-fashioned research strategies: “I would advise reading appropriate literature—books authored by credible medical [and] professionals—available at the library or at your local bookstore.” Should research reveal conflicting information, Gurm suggests discussing it with your health care practitioner before making any changes to your treatment.

Further, ask your health care team for recommended reading materials as well as any take-home materials they may have in-office. “I always provide take-home information for my patients and, if treatment recommendations are made, a detailed list of instructions,” says Gurm.

Prepare for appointments

A health care practitioner’s time is valuable, and getting the most out of the appointment is beneficial to both of you.

Fill in the blanks
When seeing a new practitioner, patients are required to fill out a plethora of forms. Many of these forms are now available for download on clinics’ websites and can be filled out ahead of time. If this option is not available, arrive early to the appointment or request the clinic fax a copy for your attention.

“Naturopathic physicians require a lot of detailed information about a person’s health history in addition to their current state of health,” says Gurm. “You may need time to retrieve some records to fill out the forms accurately.” Accuracy in filling out these forms ensures the practitioner receives the relevant information needed to begin the healing process.

Make a list and prioritize
Prior to the appointment make a list of questions to ask the health care practitioner. Then prioritize the questions in order of importance. Chances are the time restrictions of an appointment will not allow all questions to be answered, so it’s necessary to determine which are most important to you.

Seek support
An appointment with a health care practitioner can often be overwhelming. Concern about our health can create anxiety and unease, but we are also being bombarded with new information.

Both Cooper and Gurm suggest bringing a supportive family member or friend along to the appointment.
Cooper, having been to dozens of appointments herself, often brings along someone from her support network. However, to be polite, she always asks if it’s alright. “It’s all about creating that really good relationship,” she says.

Gurm adds that an extra head is helpful when there is a language barrier, when the patient is hard of hearing, or when a patient has difficulty remembering details.

Take note
Even those with sharp memories can have a hard time recalling what was discussed in an appointment. Note-taking is an excellent solution to this problem, and both Cooper and Gurm recommend it.
Keeping with the theme of creating a good relationship with your health care team, Cooper suggests asking permission when taking notes. More often than not, a health care practitioner will be pleased with your enthusiasm.

Gurm loves it when patients take notes during their appointments. She says that doing so “demonstrates to me that they are really prepared and motivated to get better and make change in their life!”

Never give up

Sometimes it can take weeks, months, or even years to reach a diagnosis or treatment plan. As Cooper says, if you’re one of the 10 percent of Canadians aged 12 to 44 with chronic, long-term pain, it’s something you may have to deal with for life. “Don’t give up,” says Cooper. “Even in the tough times, reach out and ask for help.”


Dear diary

Keeping a symptom journal is a proactive step in managing your health, allowing you to recognize patterns and provide your health care team with detailed information. You may want to include the following data:

  • time of day
  • mood
  • pain, on a scale of zero to 10
  • temperature
  • food cravings
  • digestion
  • sleep duration and quality
  • energy level

For an example, go to canadianpaincoalition.ca/media/pain_diary.pdf.

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