3. Talk with your doctor about which tests and treatments are right for you
Age, race, lifestyle, family history -- and yes, even your insurance coverage -- all play a role in determining what tests and treatments a doctor will automatically administer. Don't be afraid to ask about the most up-to-date tests and treatments that may be right for you.
For example, women with very dense, lumpy breasts should talk to their doctors about getting a digital mammogram and possibly a breast ultrasound as part of regular breast cancer screening. Men, especially those with a family history of prostate cancer or who are African-American, should ask about the PSA/prostate cancer test and rectal exam. Women with vague abdominal symptoms such as bloating, constipation or other changes that are unexplained and don't go away after two to three weeks should ask about the CA 125 blood test and vaginal probe ultrasound to detect early ovarian cancer.
Remember, it is your life on the line.
4. Monitor and manage your health care
For the 364 days of the year between doctors' visits, you must be responsible for your own health.
Use this time to set and keep track of target goals. This could include getting more exercise, more closely tracking your blood pressure and blood sugar with a home monitor, or doing a monthly self-breast exam.
Additionally, as doctors have less time than ever to talk with their patients about conditions and treatment options, it is essential that you do research and learn all you can about your health care needs. To keep track of your treatment goals, download this helpful form: for men and women.
5. Follow-up on test results!
Many of the avoidable medical mistakes underscore the fact that no news is not necessarily good news when it comes to test results. It's a good idea to give your doctor's office a self-addressed stamped envelope so that all results can be mailed directly to you.
If you don't receive your results within two to three weeks, give your doctor's office a polite call to follow up. It is not good enough to hear your test was normal; ask for an original copy of the results. That way you can learn more about your own health and share the information with future doctors.
If each one of us did our part as patients, this more than anything else could be the best medicine of all for what ails our overworked and rushed health care system.
Have you tried to get copies of your test results? What problems have you faced in asking for them? What advice can you share with others that may help all of us prevent mistakes? As always, I welcome your comments and questions.