Grace Bender

By Grace Bender. Everyone needs to be their own healthcare advocate.  I realized this when I noticed my mother struggling to manage the numerous medications she was taking. With so many prescriptions and over-the counter medications to keep track of, I was concerned about her taking the correct dosages at the correct times and following all the various instructions.

So I decided to create a medication chart that allowed her to track her medications more easily and ensure she was taking them correctly. We then showed the chart to each of her physicians and pharmacist.  The result was a dramatic change in my mother’s medication regimen.  The chart enabled her physicians to view what they and all her other doctors were prescribing. They soon realized just how many medications she was on and that some medications were actually counteracting others.  Many prescriptions were changed or stopped and over time she went from taking 16 medications to nine.

Adverse events related to medications are the fourth leading cause of death in U.S. for patients over the age of 65.  This startling statistic led me into the patient-advocate role.  Since that time my own experiences have continued to reinforce my belief that individuals need to take control of their health and work to make sure all their healthcare providers, caregivers, and/or family members are working together as a team.

After being faced with several health scares in 2008, I decided to have an MRI breast scan for peace of mind.  I had learned that the scan was the best diagnostic and screening tool for women with large, dense breasts and a family history of breast cancer.  Since I had a mammogram six months earlier, which was normal, my physician did not think the MRI was necessary.  However, I decided to have one to be certain I was breast-cancer free.  To everyone’s surprise, the scan revealed three spots that biopsies confirmed to be multifocal breast cancer.  Since I knew my own body and had educated myself about available screenings, I may have saved my life because I was told a mammogram might have taken years to pick up the spots. This may not be the right course for every woman, but everyone should know that this tool exists.

I made the decision to undergo a double mastectomy and because it was caught early, I did not need chemotherapy or radiation.  However, I was prescribed Tamoxifen, which is a drug that can help prevent cancer from reoccurring. Like many medications, you must be careful about what other medications you are taking.  I discovered that the anti-depressant I was on counteracted the benefits of Tamoxifen.  Again, I acted as my own advocate.  Remember: Medications can save your life.  However, you must take them correctly and be very careful about what else you are taking, eating, or drinking in combination with your prescription.

Medical errors by physicians and hospitals are still prevalent and a staggering number of patients are misdiagnosed every year.  Compounding the problem is the fact that numerous prescriptions prescribed by various physicians are not being reviewed on a regular basis and patients self-medicate.

Patients should not just depend on a physician’s files of their medical information but take it upon themselves to create their own permanent medical records.  Before going into a medical appointment, everyone should be prepared with the following information:

  • List of current medications and dosage
  • List of ailments
  • Medical history (if seeing a new physician)

A patient should also be prepared to explain to the doctor exactly what their problem is and offer an overall view of their health.  If a serious condition exists, perhaps they should bring someone else to the appointment.  In many cases a friend or loved one can interpret the information the doctor provides more objectively and be ready with questions that someone in an emotional state might have difficulty asking.

Ultimately, it is the responsibility of the individual to be their own advocate, know their own body, ask questions, and make sure everyone that is part of their healthcare “team” is communicating and basing decisions on the current, accurate medical information.

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One Response to “Learning to be Your Own Best Advocate”

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