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Wellness and Prevention in an Era of Patient Responsibility

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Developing a Basic Health Competency

To get the best medical care available today, consumers need to develop basic knowledge and skills related to their medical care. Doing so will help you oversee your preventive care and get the most from your screening tests.

Even more important than knowing which tests to have and when to have them is the knowledge of what are your major risks and how you can prevent the diseases you are at risk of developing.

Understanding your personal risks and managing your preventive care will seem much less daunting if you have developed good overall health literacy. Health literacy is your ability to obtain, process, and understand the basic information necessary to make health decisions. It involves a diverse set of skills, including understanding graphs, making basic calculations, and obtaining, evaluating, and applying information.

Specifically, to take full advantage of your screening tests and obtain the best preventive care, you should:

  • Know your family health history and make sure your doctor knows it.
  • Know which immunizations you have had and make sure your doctor also knows.
  • Know which health problems you are at risk for and make sure you tell your doctor.
  • Increase your awareness of medical tests that are of value to you.
  • Talk to and work with your health care provider to maintain your health; this includes identifying lifestyle changes that will improve your health and encouraging your health care provider to discuss screening tests with you.
  • Review your health insurance plan and talk to your insurance provider; know what your health care plan does and does not cover and understand the processes for getting referrals and reimbursements.
  • Always be willing to ask your health care providers questions or suggest clarification if they say something you don't understand.
  • Remind yourself that it's your health and you owe it to yourself to fully comprehend your care.

You can still rely on your doctor to tell you what tests are most worthwhile for you, but you will get the best preventive care if you approach your visits from a base of knowledge about yourself and your health.

If you still feel you are struggling with understanding medical information, it is important that you seek guidance from your health care provider, family, and resources like the one you are reading now.

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