Become Your Own Health Advocate During Checkups and Beyond
According to the Office of Minority Health, Booker T. Washington— an educator, author, and civil rights leader, established National Negro Health Week (NNHW). Washington aspired to bring awareness to health disparities affecting African Americans caused by poor working and living conditions in 1915. The health week led to the formation of health-focused observances, including National Minority Health Month that is celebrated every April.
Natasha Brown is a board-certified registered nurse who earned a Bachelor of Science in Nursing, medical-surgical nursing certification, gerontological nursing certification, certified clinical documentation improvement specialist and palliative care resource nurse. She noted that patients should write down a list of concerns that they want to discuss with their doctor during their visit, then read the questions in the room with his or her doctor. Brown stated that taking these steps ensure that a patient’s concerns are addressed and the appointment time is maximized.
Brown also provided additional medical insight and health tips that patients can reference to empower themselves.
Q: Are there any guidelines to note about how often head-to-toe checkups are recommended for healthy adults?
A: Patients should visit their primary care physician at least once a year for routine blood work. Research suggests healthy patients under 50 should see their primary care physicians every three years. Those over 50 are advised to visit their primary care physician once annually. Patients who are over the age of 50 and who have an underlying health condition should see their primary care physician more frequently.
Q: Do you believe that some patients do not understand their screening results after checkups?
A: Yes. Doctors, especially those who practice medicine privately, only have a little time to devote to patients. They often give patients their test results, thinking they fully understand them. Doctors review the patients’ lab results to confirm the results are in an acceptable range. If this is the case, and the patient is in good health, then there is no further discussion or explanation about the lab results. Patients can be on a downward trend, but doctors do not recognize it because when they receive the patients’ test results, they only look for alarming signs in their health. If patients do not know how to decipher what they are looking at when they review their results, then they are left to speculate what their results may mean.
All medical professionals learn to teach at a third-grade reading level. However, in some instances, doctors are caring for patients who have developing health issues, such as Alzheimer’s or dementia, that pose a barrier to them understanding their test results. Also, in some cases, the patients may not want to acknowledge that they do not understand their results, or they may feel rushed, or that the test results presentation may not be equivalent to the patient’s educational level.
Q: According to the Office of Minority Health, “studies estimate that only 14 percent of the U.S. population possesses proficient health literacy.” What is health literacy?
A: Health literacy is the degree to which individuals have the ability to find, understand and use information and services to make informed health-related decisions for themselves. My definition of health literacy includes how much a patient understands the health information that I am conveying to them in the present moment. For example, while reviewing the patient’s cholesterol screening results, if I state, “Here are your HDL (high-density lipoprotein) and LDL (low-density lipoprotein) levels,” does the patient understand which ones of these are good or bad? HDL is sometimes called “good” cholesterol. High levels of HDL cholesterol can lower your risk for heart disease and stroke. LDL is sometimes called “bad” cholesterol. High levels of LDL cholesterol raise your risk for heart disease and stroke.
Q: What are a few simple things that people can do to be their own health advocate?
A: If you believe you need to receive adequate health care, be bold and find another doctor or get a second opinion. Find a doctor with whom you can have open and honest conversations and who will listen to you, take your concerns under consideration and act on them. Do not let anyone tell you everything is okay when it is not. You live in your body, so if you feel like something is wrong, there’s a good chance it is.
Also, stay calm if your healthcare team is listening to you. Sometimes when patients become frustrated, they give up on getting health care. However, you cannot do this. You have to get up and keep going every day. You must say: “This is for me, this is for my health, and I am not going to be deterred by what is happening!”