Take charge of your health

Staff Sgt. Derrick Reynolds, a 71st Medical Operations Squadron technician, vaccinates an Airman at the immunizations section of the clinic at Vance Air Force Base, Okla., Jan. 4. (Photo by David Poe, Graphic illustration by Steve Thompson)

Staff Sgt. Derrick Reynolds, a 71st Medical Operations Squadron technician, vaccinates an Airman at the immunizations section of the clinic at Vance Air Force Base, Okla., Jan. 4. (Photo by David Poe, Graphic illustration by Steve Thompson)

FALLS CHURCH, Va. -- One of the best ways to practice preventive health is to take on a more engaged, active role in your healthcare.
 

According to Col. John Oh, chief of Preventive Medicine for the Air Force Medical Support Agency, patients who better understand their own conditions have more improved outcomes.

“They’re less likely to suffer from errors and less likely to be re-admitted to the hospital,” Oh said. “I think definitely those who are more involved in their care and understand their health do better.”

This is why the Air Force Medical Service is creating initiatives to help get patients more involved in their healthcare. Oh said there are specific actions patients can take to get more involved in their healthcare and live healthier.

Maj. Ryan Gottfredson, a pediatrician and Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences Preventive Medicine resident, said, “An engaged patient who’s really active is also going to be engaging in other activities to overall improve their health like lifestyle changes, improved nutrition and exercise, and working on healthy habits.” 

Oh said one of the ways patients can be more involved is by being better prepared for every medical visit. Patients should know what medications they’re on, what the dosages are, and for people with multiple medications it helps to bring them in their original bottles to the clinic. Oh added it’s really important for patients to speak up, ask questions, and take notes during the appointment.

“You should feel comfortable freely talking about what’s important to you, and your healthcare provider wants to know what’s important to you,” he said. “The provider should really be welcoming your questions, your participation. And you should feel free to talk about anything, even something that’s very sensitive or personal.”

Throughout the Air Force Medical Service, focus on patient engagement includes family involvement as well. Oh said family members can be an extra set of hands and eyes for the provider and patient; can help patients make tough decisions; and even remind patients and providers of things they forgot or never knew, like an unstated allergy.

“Get into the habit of routinely bringing a family member or friend to the visit, if possible,” he said. “They can cross check the information you’re getting. They may think of questions you can’t think of. Sometimes two heads are better than one.”

Changing the healthcare system to get patients and families more involved is a long-term proposition, Oh said. He expects it could take years to really change, but it’s important to start somewhere. He said his vision is to see more knowledgeable, better informed patients as a regular part of healthcare.

Col. Oh emphasized the AFMS wants healthcare teams to partner with patients and families for the safest care.

“We want to be concrete and specific in terms of what we mean by ‘patient and family engagement’ and how we can change the culture. Otherwise it’s an abstract concept,” Oh said. “I think it’s pretty clear. We are shifting the bar. We are committed as an enterprise to having patients and families more involved, to better address healthcare, and to take into consideration patient and family values.”