Remember five facts.

First, you are the one with the most to gain or lose when you interact with the health care system.  You have only one body, one life.

Second, doctors and nurses have good intentions, but the health care system is designed to deliver tests and treatments – not necessarily to improve your quality of life.

Third, the typical treatment works for only some of the people who get it, and side effects and complications are common.

Fourth, health care is complex and mistakes are common in testing, diagnosis, treatment, and record keeping.

Fifth, needed actions and communication sometimes fall through the cracks. 

Follow eight action steps to get care that focuses on your needs:

First, be clear about how your medical issue(s) interfere with your ability to lead the life you want, and decide on your goals for care (reduce pain, improve mobility, etc.)

Second, keep a copy of medical records both that come from doctors, labs, hospitals, etc., and that you create to track symptoms, drugs taken, and so forth.

Third, clearly explain to doctors and nurses your current medical concerns, highlights of your medical history, previous treatments for your current problem(s), and the results of those treatments.

Fourth, ask questions until you feel you have the information you need (to the extent that it is available) to choose care that supports your goals.

Fifth, don’t assume that anyone in health care talks to anyone else in health care. Provide clear and complete information to everyone from the nurse to the doctor to the hospital to the rehabilitation site to in-home aides.  Follow up if planned actions don’t occur or if you don’t receive information you expected.

Sixth, keep an eye out for complications, such as hospital-acquired delirium, blood clots, and infections, as well as side effects of drugs.  Get help promptly if they occur.

Seventh, recognize that most of us will need help at some point as a result of illness, injury, or old age.  Simply hoping that you will be the exception is unlikely to serve you well.  Explore your options for future living arrangements and care, and get a lawyer to help you prepare legal documents to cover common issues, such as who will make decisions about your care if you can’t and who will handle your money.

Eighth, create photo books to help you, your family, and others caring for you as you age to understand and remember who you are, what’s important to you, and the difference you have made in this world.   

This is the last regular health care column I will write for you.  Take care of yourself and your loved ones.