What would your personal health checklist look like?

Think of a time when you’ve felt very sick, maybe a case of pneumonia, a bad bout of the flu, or a more serious illness.

You probably didn’t feel much like “engaging” with people. That’s the term health advocates use to describe what patients need to do to be effective in managing their health care.

It’s very hard to act like the CEO of your own body when you’re unbelievably tired, or in pain, or depressed.  It’s virtually impossible to feel powerful when you have chronic bed head and it’s a challenge just to climb the stairs.

Illness can be paralyzing on many levels and can turn even the most pro-active person into a passive recipient of their healthcare.

Therein lies the problem:  At a time when you most need to be asking tough questions, seeking a second or third opinion, gathering your medical records and reassessing your current treatment, you are typically least able to act.

How do you protect yourself when your energy reserve is at zero due to illness?

One solution is to create a personal healthcare checklist – and share it with the most important people in your life.

That means making sure that your spouse, family and friends know how you’d like to manage an illness long before you get sick.

Talk with them about it. And then, should you end up in such a situation, the people who care about you most can step in, and ensure that you get the help and support you want and need.

This statement isn’t about last wishes or how to manage terminal illness. Rather, it’s about clearly stating in writing your core healthcare and lifestyle principles. It describes your wishes for ensuring the best possible care.

Here’s what such a directive could look like (yours would likely be different).

Should I become too ill or too tired to effectively manage my own healthcare, I would like help in making sure I receive and maintain the highest quality care, as defined below:

  1. I always want a second, or, if necessary, a third opinion on any treatment, surgery or procedure that carries moderate risk or has notable pros and cons.
  2. I want to know the odds of benefiting from any treatment or procedure that is recommended.
  3. I want access to all my medical records.
  4. Before taking any medication, I want to fully understand the side-effects and long-term implications associated with each.
  5. I want to know and fully understand my diagnosis and my prognosis.
  6. I want the doctor’s un-edited opinion about my situation.
  7. I would like the opportunity to talk with other patients with the same diagnosis.
  8. I want exposure to whatever is necessary to be as educated as possible about the illness.
  9. I’d like someone to accompany me to appointments. Having another person listen and if necessary, advocate on my behalf, may be invaluable. At a minimum, I might need help remembering details, asking questions and taking notes.
  10. I want my physicians to talk directly to me, and not solely to the person who accompanies me.
  11. I do not want to hide due to depression.
  12. I want to maintain healthy nutrition and exercise habits, to the best of my abilities.
  13. I want to laugh daily and indulge in small pleasures with family and friends.

Having a statement like this will help you communicate your needs at a time when you’re likely to be spending most of your energy just coping with your illness.

At the very least, it will help the people who love you understand what you’ll need and want most from the healthcare system — and from them.

What would your personal health checklist look like?

Barbara Bronson Gray is a nurse who blogs at BodBossAlexandra Yperifanos is founder of ExpressWell, Inc. and can be reached on Twitter @AlexYperifanos.

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  • Homeless

    I want access to Dr. Google.

    • http://twitter.com/bbgrayrn bbgrayrn

      That’s a great place to start getting educated and something most people can use even when they’re sick. Add it to your list!

  • meyati

    What difference does it make? Some doctors just plain aren’t good doctors. i have a pretty good one, but I think that he’s physically ill or something. Some doctors don’t want nothing from the patient-which makes treatment harder. Most think that you’re lying, while you’re dying. I’ve had doctors tell me-I thought you were making things up-then—Then you find out that they are lying to you-Really- I don’t know if I can trust my doctors-I can’t even trust my pharmacy-I’ve been given the wrong medicine several times. They had a pin with the name of the head pharmacist and pin it on whoever they thought should argue with me- I ended up in the ER-

    • http://twitter.com/bbgrayrn bbgrayrn

      It sounds to me like your list should include the high value you place on finding a physician you trust and with whom you feel comfortable. As for the medication error potential you mention, it’s very important you check the medicine carefully — your name, the medication, the dose, the instruction — before leaving the pharmacy. You might even add that to your list!

      • meyati

        OK-I went to a pharmacy for a long time. I don’t get a lot of meds and don’t know what lots of things are. I filled out paperwork that I’m allergic to Tylenol. I was in an accident went to an ER. The doctor prescribed a pain killer. I hadn’t taken any in about 5 years. I pick up my med and start feeling and acting like I have an inner ear infection. Then I realize it has to be Tylenol I called several pharmacies that were open-it’s Sunday-it has Tylenol in it. I stop taking it- got well enough to drive to the pharmacy. I go in and ask them-Tell me what drug allergies do you have listed? “Tylenol” “Does this have Tylenol in it?” “Yes” “Why in hell did you sell me this f***ing crap?” They looked it up-”This allergy isn’t listed on your HMO file. We didn’t put your allergies on the HMO files.” “Are U waiting til you murder somebody before you list allergies? You are asking to be sued.” I went to the HMO and they listed both acetaminophen and Tylenol as drug allergies to make sure that a doctor understands. THE DOCTOR ISSUE-I HAD FULL BODY SKIN EXAMS-HUNTING FOR CANCER-I HAD A ZIT THAT I KEPT ASKING ABOUT. THIS WENT ON FOR OVER 20 YEARS. IT BURIED-AND WED I GO INTO THE CANCER CLINIC FOR A VERY AGGRESSIVE CANCER-SEEING A BLOOD CANCER SPECIALIST. I SAW MILITARY DOCTORS, CIVILIAN DOCTORS, DERMATOLOGISTS, INDEPENDENT DOCTORS, DOCTORS WITH DIFFERENT GROUPS. I OFFERED TO PAY CASH FOR THAT AND CASH FOR THE LAB. I WISH THAT I HAD SAT OUTSIDE AN ER AND CUT IT OUT WITH A BUCK KNIFE. Something is wrong with American medicine–France or Italy would have allowed it to be taken out for vanity-that’s one of their excuses-and don’t tell them how to practice medicine–I’m missing part of my nose and lip–I was diagnosed 11/16/2012. My brother went to an Asian doctor overseas that said he had a flea in his knee. I don’t see much difference–