As the world’s access to food (and not necessarily the healthy kind) has increased and profoundly decreased physical activity becomes prevalent the number of many chronic diseases such as hypertension and diabetes are rising. The rise in these diseases are despite the more common use of prescription medications and increased healthcare intervention.

Compounding these increasing detriments of health is the fact that many people are suffering from multiple chronic disorders and are thus taking a ‘cocktail’ of medications. Every drug taken past the first one has a compounding chance of a harmful drug interaction. It is a lot to ask a single physician, nurse or pharmacist to manage the array of medications taken by the modern patient.

Let’s face it, the modern health professional is busy, not just with the shear volume of patients, but with the management of their offices, keeping up with the most up-to-date research and with their own lives. Sadly, mistakes can be made and harmful side-effects are possible. When serious side-effects occur, the cure becomes worse than the disease. With the complexity of conditions, the array of solutions, and the business of healthcare providers it is important for patients to take some ownership of their own care.

In my office I make a profound effort to spend a modest amount of time with my patients but I know (also from experience) that time is a luxury many healthcare professionals have very little of. Sometimes in my office, even though I plan for longer visits, unexpected demands in the office force me to shorten or make my visits more efficient (i.e. short).

The result? Five minute visits with not a lot of verbal interaction and I know this is a challenge every healthcare provider faces. That’s why I appreciate patients who take some ownership of their conditions.

The internet is a great source of information; google what doctors tell you and prepare brief questions for your healthcare provider (respect the limited time they have). Try to understand the basics of your condition, especially if you suffer from a chronic disease.

I can’t underline the importance of people with chronic conditions in understanding what is happening to their bodies. Without the advantage of your doctor’s eight year education, it can be a challenge to work through some of the reading, but trust me, the basics of a condition can be learned and are well worth the effort. And I always appreciate challenges given by patients when they discover optional treatment choices and can talk to me about their conditions.

I have a friend (a mom) who has a daughter with many unique health challenges. She has taken complete ownership of her daughter’s condition and I can tell you, her knowledge has helped navigate the very complex healthcare system, has helped doctors deliver care to her daughter and realistically has been an invaluable resource for the many healthcare providers involved in this young girls case.

Having an increase of knowledge of your own health is important to long-term health but is only one component. Choosing healthy life choices that support good health are also important: vigorous regular exercise, a healthy diet and sufficient rest are all key components. It is never to early to start changing your lifestyle. I have patients work on just one component at a time, and once that one component is mastered and habitual, work on the next goal.

Exercise should be three to five ‘hard’ thirty minute sessions at a minimum, every week. A healthy diet should include all 5 food groups: fruits, vegetables, grains, proteins, and dairy (except for the lactose tolerant) and avoidance of sugars, alcohol and too many carbohydrates. Sleep should be 7-9 hours a night. If you you’re not waking up ready to start your day, a bit groggy and ‘blah’ you’re probably not getting enough sleep.

Obviously, we all need medication occasionally for acute conditions and some of us need medication to manage chronic conditions. In my office, I have a recommendation that pain medication should be taken when you cannot sleep or rest. I also strongly discourage taking prescription medication without a Medical Doctor’s advice. I cannot tell you how many patients I have in my office that take their Dad’s post operative pain medication to self medicate their back pain. Please, if you need to borrow a family or friends medication you need to visit your family doctor for a proper prescription! If you wish, bring Dad’s medication and ask the doctor if it’s OK.

Owning your health means taking the appropriate lifestyle changes to heart, understanding your chronic conditions, know what medications you are taking and a healthy diet. These changes can start to happen today! Do not be shy about asking your healthcare provider with help in the first steps to long-term health.

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