Who is your primary health care provider? Spoiler alert: It’s you.

 

Many years ago, I went to visit a beloved woman who was one of my health and wellness mentors.  I shared some of my personal healthcare concerns with her. She listened and then asked calmly, “Who is your primary health care provider?” “Oh,” I said, “it is Dr. Smith (not his real name).” My wise mentor looked into my eyes. “No,” she explained in a calm, clear voice, “YOU are your primary healthcare provider; your doctor is a member of your healthcare team.” Her words reminded me that I was not a mere bystander in the care of my body. I needed information and options, but at the end of the day, I had the primary responsibility of making any decision that could impact my health.

So often in healthcare, we refer to the primary family physician or nurse practitioner as simply the “primary health care provider.” This phrase, though well-meaning, implies that a doctor or nurse practitioner has absolute responsibility for your health and wellness. It is time to change this belief.

You are your primary healthcare provider. No one knows your body better than you. When you feel ill, no one is better suited to describe your symptoms and concerns than you. Likewise, you are in charge of your wellness plan. You are responsible for what you eat (or don’t eat) and when you exercise (or don’t exercise). Does this mean you do not need a physician, nurse practitioner, or other healthcare practitioners?  No. You do these providers. They are valuable members of your team. It simply means you must be an active participant in your healthcare plan and decisions.

Ways to become an essential member of your health care team

  1. Get an annual physical examination. If you have not seen a doctor or nurse practitioner for a general wellness exam in at least a year, schedule an appointment today. A complete physical exam should include lab work, vital signs, health history, and a physical examination. When you go to this appointment, take a written list of information you want to share and any questions you want to ask your healthcare practitioner. Tell him or her about all the medications, herbal therapies, and over-the-counter medications you take. Also, tell the practitioner, what (if any) healthcare concerns you have and ask for information about all possible treatment options (including medications, diet, exercise, herbal therapies, surgeries, or other procedures).
  2. Get answers to your health questions. If a treatment, surgery, or therapy is recommended to you by your doctor or nurse practitioner, ask questions and get enough information to make an informed decision about the recommendation. If you still have questions, get a second opinion from another qualified healthcare practitioner. The internet is not always the best source for accurate healthcare information.
  3. Learn ways to improve your health. If you need information about nutrition, Diabetes management, or safe exercise techniques, team up with health educators who are certified to provide that education. Before working with an educator or trainer, ask about their credentials to ensure you are working with someone who is qualified.
  4. Get a health and wellness coach. If you are having difficulty losing weight, dealing with stress, or complying with a disease treatment plan, consider hiring a health and wellness coach. They will be your ally and can help you identify ways to make positive behavior changes. Like health educators and trainers, it is important to ask about credentials and training before signing up to work with a coach.
  5. Take time to renew your body and spirit. People used to think massage was a luxury reserved for spa vacations. We now know massage can decrease stress, improve sleep, decrease pain, and assist the body in recovering from musculoskeletal injuries. Prayer, yoga, mindfulness, walking, biofeedback, and massage are just a few options that can help renew your body and spirit. Include activities like these in your overall wellness plan.

I’ve heard it said, “You are not responsible for your illness, but you are responsible for your wellness.” What steps do you plan to take today to start improving your health and wellness?