A few days after Christmas, I received a phone call from a relative. They were calling to let me know a family member was in the hospital after suffering a heart attack. What was so shocking was the hospitalized family member was only 53-years-old and had just been at my house for the Christmas holiday!
Just a few days ago, my family member had seemed perfectly healthy and now he was in the hospital recovering from stent procedures to correct blockages in his coronary arteries. Why tell you this story? — Because it is a real life example illustrating an important point. No one can accurately predict when they might have a medical problem, what it will be or how serious it might become. Medical problems can happen to any of us, at any time. The question you need to ask yourself is, “Are you ready today, if a medical problem happens to you or a loved one?” The following questions and tips are listed to help you decide just how prepared you are.
- Do you have a physician you see regularly? Everyone needs to have a doctor they can call on, even if you are generally healthy. Regular visits to a doctor can help discover problems patients may not even know they have (like high blood pressure) and allow a relationship to develop so the doctor can be familiar with your history even before you have a serious medical problem. It is much better to have a doctor who knows you before an emergency or serious medical problem develops. They can help coordinate your care and help you get in to see specialists sooner if that’s what you need to do. If you don’t have a doctor you can call tomorrow, then this tip needs to be high on your priority list!
- Do you seek care early when a problem develops? This is so important to do! Seeking care early can greatly improve your prognosis (how well you will do). Everyone has heard this, but do you do this? My relative did! He went to the emergency room before his condition became irreversible. He is now home recuperating and learning what else he needs to modify to reduce his chances of having more cardiac problems. If he had not sought care early, his story might have had a very different, potentially fatal outcome. So, if you think you have a medical problem, you probably do. Don’t delay – get care as early as you can.
- Do you have a patient advocate? Everyone needs to have a patient advocate before they need one. For minor problems you may be your own best patient advocate. For serious matters you need someone else (family member or friend) who can help you look out for your best medical options. Patient advocates can help in so many different ways. They can be an extra pair of ears to listen at appointments, help you make tough decisions, transport you to appointments, help you research your particular medical problem, etc. If you don’t have one yet – get one as soon as possible. Don’t wait until you have an emergency to choose someone to help you.
- Do you have an updated medication list and/or health history? Does someone besides yourself (like your patient advocate) know where it is? This can be a great tool to share with all your medical providers (doctors, nurses, pharmacists, etc.), but it needs to be updated as your medical situation changes (new medications started/new diagnoses received, etc.). Giving all your medical providers the same updated information can help prevent medication errors and be a great help in diagnosing potential problems.
- Do you wear medical alert jewelry if you have a serious allergy or ongoing medical problem? If not, you should! Medical jewelry gives emergency workers a way to know about your medical problems even if you are unconscious. Sample information might include: latex allergy, penicillin allergy, diabetic, etc. Your doctor can help you decide the best words to have engraved upon the jewelry. You can find out about companies that create medical alert jewelry from your doctor or pharmacist, or you can visit http://www.medicalert.org or http://www.AmericanMedical-ID.com.
- Do you routinely get copies of all your medical records (tests, letters, etc.) and keep them in a binder with all your other medical information? If you don’t, you should! Don’t rely on, “no news is good news”. Having copies of all your medical tests allows you to double check the results against what your doctor has told you. It helps ensure your test results were actually read. Ask your doctor’s office if you have any questions about your test results or medical conditions.
- Do you share the same/updated medical information with all your medical providers (doctors/pharmacists/nurses, etc.)? As mentioned above, make sure you share your medication list (including prescription medications, supplements, vitamins, over-the counter medications) and your health history with all your providers. Also, don’t forget to repeat the information as often as you need to. For example, if you have a latex allergy and are in the hospital, don’t expect everyone coming in to treat/help you to read your chart. Make sure everyone understands you have a latex allergy before they touch you. This includes the food servers, assistants, technicians, nurses, doctors, etc. You would be surprised how many times allergies are overlooked, even when it’s recorded somewhere.
- Do you ask questions and get answers? This tip is so, so important! Long gone should be the days when patients are afraid to ask the doctor questions. Unfortunately, some patients are still hesitant to ask questions for a variety of reasons. The harsh reality of today’s medical care is if you do not ask questions, you risk suffering from medical errors or not receiving the care you deserve. The best advice is, “Get over it – you have every right to ask questions of your doctors and medical providers!” Keep asking questions until you understand the answers. Seek additional opinions (second/third etc.) as needed until your instincts tell you you’re where you should be.
- When it comes to your health care, do you double check everything you can? It is well worth the time. By acting as your own, or a loved ones, “health quality control manager” you can prevent many medical errors. The best part is you don’t have to have medical training to be able to do this, just a lot of patience and persistence. Asking questions and double checking everything you can is the best way for you or a loved one to receive the care you deserve.
A medication list should include the following information: the name of the drug, the strength, the form (pill, liquid, etc.), how often it’s taken and how long you have been taking it. This list should also include any bad reactions you had to medications or any drug allergies you have. A health history should include information about any medical diseases, illnesses or medical problems you have. It should also list information about past hospitalizations, surgeries, blood transfusions, or medical problems that run in your family. You can always ask your doctor for a copy of their standard health history form you can keep at home.
If you can answer “yes” to all nine questions, good for you – you are prepared for the unexpected medical problem! If not, then please make the time to update or make the changes necessary for your situation. Remember, it’s your health and no one will look out for yourself or a loved one like you can!