The facts about healthcare in the United States can be discouraging. Our country is notoriously lagging behind in terms of our health outcomes when compared with other countries with similar resources. We spend substantially more, but have worse health.
There are many smart, capable people that mean well and work hard in our healthcare system. Unfortunately, the system itself is set up in a way that doesn't promote wellness. It's a GREAT place to be if you need a high-tech diagnostic test or intervention — but we're not known for promoting well-being. Ironically, as providers are pressured to see more patients, they invest less time in conversations that help people create the healthy lifestyles that promote health and prevent disease in the first place.
Those of us that have been working in healthcare have known the problems for awhile. Too little access to the right kind of services. Too little time to provide services. Payment incentives that reward sickness care over wellness care. The list goes on...
As our healthcare system struggles to reform, it is important that we learn to advocate for ourselves. In the end, each of us is responsible for caring for ourselves and making sure we ask for - and get - what we need in order to be at our best.
Here are five ways that you can be a champion for your own well-being.
- Remember that wellness is a continuum - not a switch. — Our level of health and well-being is not like a light switch - "on" or "off". Our level of well-being is constantly shrinking or expanding. Whatever our present level of health, we can always choose to focus on growth opportunities, and take steps to move in a healthier direction.
- Do a regular wellness self-assessment. — Chances are, your annual "wellness" exam with your health care provider isn't actually measuring or addressing your well-being or your health potential. Most of these exams are focused on a different question. Instead of asking "How can you increase your health and well-being?", these encounters are focused on "Are you sick yet?" Make a commitment to keep tabs on your level of well-being at a regular interval, using measures that are important to you. The Brief Wellness Self-Assessment is a simple and quick place to start. As you assess your current situation, notice where you see growth opportunities, and determine a next step to make an intentional investment in that opportunity. If you get stuck, work with a wellness coach or other trusted health advisor to gain clarity and devise a plan.
- Build a wellness support team. — As you invest in your well-being, determine what professionals can help you reach your goals. In addition to a primary health care provider, you may have a number of other people that provide information, assessments, or services that support you. Examples could include traditional health care providers, coaches, personal trainers, chiropractors, massage therapists, yoga therapists, acupuncturists, and many more. Make sure that the professionals you select are aligned with your values and that they work well together.
- Communicate with your primary health care provider and ask for what you need. — If your primary health care provider (PCP) isn't helping you invest in your well-being, let him or her know where you would like support. Share the results of your self-assessment and get their recommendations for resources, if needed. Write down questions before your visits and take them with you so that you make sure to get them answered. Letting your PCP in on your wellness plan helps them provide better service and facilitates collaboration between them and everyone else on your wellness support team. Who knows? You might even help them expand their perspective about how to help others that they serve!
- Keep good records and share them when needed. — If you have multiple people on your wellness team, most likely they don't know everything about your history, even if they communicate well. In addition to sharing your plans for the future, it is important that you keep records about relevant aspects of your past. Your past health history can often reveal important information about special considerations that will be helpful to your team. You are probably used to being asked about such things as allergies, current health concerns, past surgeries or hospitalizations, current medications and supplements, and vaccinations. In addition, consider keeping records of lessons learned — such as past screening or diagnostic work-ups, supplements or medications that did not work as desired or that caused side-effects; wellness strategies that have worked or not worked; and support structures that work best for you. This kind of information can help your team provide more appropriate and personalized care.
In our changing health care environment, it is easy for wellness to get lost in the conversation. You are the expert in your own life, and the most qualified person to be the captain of your wellness team.
How do you make sure that your wellness team is winning? Please share your wisdom with us in the comments below!