Being Responsible For Your Own Health Care

This is part one in a series of posts on the topic of being responsible for your own health care.

Did you notice: something has changed in the way we do medicine. While technology has given some great advances in the 21st century, one of the biggest changes in medicine has been occurring for some time, starting in the mid-20th century. What is that change? Making the client the central person in the healthcare sphere. The way people become healthy – and stay healthy – relies heavily on the client’s motivation to take responsibility for their own medical care. Here’s how you can become the central figure in your health care, and help your medical team help you!

What’s Up, Doc?
Before starting any job for the typical healthcare setting, most employers ask potential employees to supply proof of essential vaccines to protect the patient as well as the employee. When I needed access to my own medical records for immunizations, I called the clinic who would have those records, only to be informed that the records were offsite, archived in a warehouse. When the record was pulled, they verified that records going past 10 years were no longeer accessible. Unless you still possess your yellow, hand-written record of immunizations (now completed with a stamp), you might be out of luck.

Instead of asking the all-knowing physician, “What’s up, Doc?”, you can anticipate answering a more important question that your doctor should ask you: “What ails?” The more you know about what is working for you and what isn’t in regards to your health challenges, needs, problems, and successes, the more you can help your doctor help you. Your knowledge of your health status helps every person who assists you — the customer care representative of your HMO, the MA who takes your vitals, the RN who attends to your shots, minor procedures, and triage, your PCP, and your surgeon or specialist.

Personal Health Record (PHR)

I tend not to remember numbers as well as other kinds of content. Remembering the date of the last time I had an allergic reaction to a medication is harder than remembering the allergen (i.e. an antibiotic, such as sulfa). But do you remember your blood sugar readings from two years ago? Do you know your lowest number? Your highest? The one that made you feel the best? Do you remember the month and year your father or mother was diagnosed with skin cancer? How about the kind of anti-depressant your father positively responded (and that you might have a fair chance at also responding favorably)?

Introducing the concept of the PHP, or personal health record. Instead of your medical record staying in your doctor’s office or an archive, your health record is released directly to you, either on a chip, or in a computer application you can download and access at anytime because YOU set it up. Two companies, Microsoft and Google, both launched applications to encourage savvy consumers like yourself to manage their own health records. Google recently cancelled its program, advising users that it will shut down Google Health by January 2012. Microsoft’s HealthVault is welcoming all users to create an account to store your sensitive medical records for your own access.

And there are other PHR’s from a variety of perspectives. PatientsLikeMe.com was created by three people when a brother of the founders was diagnosed with ALS. People find communities of others with similar conditions, learn from one another,and even post info on clinical trials of medications. WebMD’s PHR is another very popular PHR, with an impressive transparency about their privacy terms.

How does curating a PHR make you responsible for your own medical care? Because you’re in the driver’s seat. You have access to your medical record, anywhere. You can add additional information as you go, even if your doctor does not send you an update for weeks. You won’t have to deal with HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act), which functions for the realm of HMO’s but not for a software company (though they have their own privacy TOUA (terms of use agreement) to protect your sensitive information from being misused). When you have access to your own records, you have knowledge at your fingertips. Knowledge is power. With power, you are response-able.

Don’t Want To Be Responsible?

There is always someone who doesn’t like this kind of shift. Why not drive our bodies into the doctor’s office and let all the workers service them like cars? I’d caution you against this mindset. The best medicine is a collaboration between patient and physician, between client and provider. Input in, input out; garbage in, garbage out. Medicine is usually only as good as the motivation of the client to be well and administer the follow up care with attention and dedication towards wellness.

If this kind of medicine seems repugnant to you, my best recommendation is to take the whole — the responsibility of shouldering your own health care — and take small steps toward educating yourself about your health. Start with writing things down. File what you write about your health in one folder, or on one software application or memo. Ask for help in organizing your notes, or try a PHR program such as HealthVault. You won’t have to memorize which asthma inhaler you responded well to, or what diabetes medication worked the best, if you take a more active role in writing down your responses, dosing times, activity levels, and other pieces of information you are privvy to in a way no provider can ever be.

We are approaching 2012 with lightning speed. You decide if it’s time to become more responsible for your own health care and wellness. Once you make that decision, everything can change. Here’s to you, and a healthier 2012!