Renew’s Checkup Challenge: Take charge of your care

Day 5 is all about learning how to be your own best health advocate. These tips will help you team up with your providers to help make you feel your best.  

Nancy Fitzgerald
Old woman visiting the doctor

The Renew Checkup Challenge is here to help you take charge of your health in a new way. Over 7 days, you’ll prepare for your next annual wellness visit, learn how to build a stronger relationship with your provider and become a better advocate for your health. Because no one ever said you had to take the changes that can come with getting older sitting down.

Stressed about your health? Don’t be afraid to speak up, ask questions and get all the information you need from your health care providers. This will help you make the best decisions and tap into the care you need.

After all, being your own advocate is good for your physical and emotional health. Research published last year in OTJR: Occupation, Participation and Health shows that people who are actively involved in their care are:

  • More satisfied with their providers
  • More likely to stick with their treatment plans than those who aren’t involved
  • More likely to show greater improvements in their conditions
  • More likely to report better pain control

“Being an active participant in your own care can make a huge difference in your health outcomes,” says Kathryn Boling, M.D., a family practitioner with Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore. “It can help your provider make a diagnosis faster and put you on the road to recovery.”

So don’t be shy. Here are 7 strategies for teaming up with providers to help get the great care you deserve.

Taking charge of your health starts with your annual wellness visit
This important yearly checkup can help you and your primary care provider keep tabs on your health and discuss prevention steps that are right for you. UnitedHealthcare® Medicare Advantage plan members can get help finding a provider by signing in to MyUHCMedicare.com and clicking on Find Care and Costs. Not a member? Learn more here.

1. Go easy on yourself

Living with a chronic condition isn’t easy, so it may help to remember that you’re not alone. More than 50% of American adults are living with at least one long-term condition, such as diabetes, depression or cancer, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

People with chronic conditions are more likely to experience lower self-esteem than those without them — and to blame themselves for the situation. But studies show that patients who treat themselves with kindness and compassion are more likely to advocate for themselves. So, take a deep breath and remind yourself that you’re doing your best to stay on top of your health.

2. Keep track of your medications

This is a very important way to advocate for yourself, stresses Steven Furr, M.D., a family practitioner in Jackson, Alabama. “Your provider needs to know exactly what medications you’re taking,” he says. “Things go well when we’ve got that information. But when we don’t, serious problems can happen. Another provider may have prescribed a drug that could interact with something I might prescribe.”

Keep a list of all the medications you take and bring it along every time you visit your primary care provider (PCP). Another tip: “Take a picture of your medication list with your phone — that way it’s always handy when you need it,” says Dr. Furr. (Learn what else to bring to each appointment here.)

3. Be proactive about screenings and vaccinations

A big part of your annual wellness visit will focus on preventive health strategies, but you don’t have to wait for that appointment to act. If it’s time for your flu shot and your next scheduled visit is months away, call your PCP or stop by a local in-network pharmacy to get it. UnitedHealthcare Medicare Advantage members can find a location by to going to our flu locator tool.

 

4. Stay connected

If you see a specialist, such as a cardiologist or a cancer specialist, remind them to send a recap of the visit to your PCP, especially if you’re going outside their system.

“Different medical health records systems don’t always communicate well with each other,” explains Dr. Furr, “so ask them to send a note.” When your PCP is the keeper of all your important updates, you have a complete health record in one place.

5. Be prepared

Before your visit, jot down the most important things you want to ask. Stay focused — you may get only a few minutes with your PCP, so you’ll want to make sure they cover your key concerns. “Talk about your primary problem,” advises Dr. Furr. “Don’t get distracted by less serious matters.” Be sure to take notes or bring along a friend or family member to help you remember everything that was discussed.

6. Ask away

Puzzled about something your PCP told you? Confused about a medication or lab test? Don’t be afraid to ask follow-up questions. And before you’re out the door, make sure you have the answers to three key questions: What is my main problem? What do I need to do? Why is it important to do this?

“Before you leave, be clear on what your diagnosis is,” says Dr. Furr. “That way you can do more research when you get home.” Some trustworthy resources: support groups or reputable websites such as the American Diabetes Association or the American Heart Association.

7. Tap into technology

Electronic medical health records help make it easy to stay on top of any medical conditions, monitor your medications, and keep track of lab reports and appointments. Your PCP or health system likely has a patient portal that allows you to access it easily.

“You can find everything you need in one place, and it’s easy to set up,” says Dr. Furr. You can also use the built-in health app on your smartphone to list your blood type, allergies and other essential information.

Prefer to keep it old-school? Now’s the perfect time to grab your Renew Checkup Challenge Activity Guide (download a copy here.)

Flip to Day 5 and you’ll find a handy space to write down the names and phone numbers of every provider on your care team. Be sure to include your PCP, any specialists and your local pharmacist. You can make a copy to share with any loved ones who help you manage your care, or with your PCP at your next visit. You can even snap a photo to keep on your phone.

Catch up with the rest of the Checkup Challenge:
Day 1: Assess your physical activity level
Day 2: Test your balance
Day 3: Think about your bowel and bladder function
Day 4: Check in with your feelings
Day 6: Check your medication knowledge
Day 7: Make your health emergency plan