Know your history
In the health and medicine world, you often hear words such as awareness, proactive and education.
The U.S. Health and Human Services defines health literacy as "the degree to which individuals have the capacity to obtain, process and understand basic health information needed to make appropriate health decisions and services needed to prevent or treat illness."
Health literacy is just as important as health itself. It's especially important when you find yourself or a loved one in a hospital or emergency room. Things may go more smoothly if you know the information to provide and questions to ask.
Patients who have low health literacy have a tougher time maintaining good health. According to HHS, it could prevent them from finding services, filling out complex health forms, sharing their medical history with providers, getting preventive health care, knowing the relationship between risky behaviors and health, managing chronic health conditions and understanding directions on medicine.
When it comes to chronic illnesses such as cancer, diabetes and heart disease, you can know too much. When diagnosed with such illnesses, an informed patient is more likely to be a compliant patient. Doctors have said a patient's lack of education about his or her condition often leads to poor outcomes, as some people often end up waiting until the last minute for medical help.
It's a fine line between becoming informed and being misinformed. In today's world of information overload, particularly online, it's easy to read or hear varying medical advice and opinions.
But researching online is not all bad. Reputable websites, such as UpToDate, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institute of Health and the Institute of Medicine, provide information on illnesses, disease surveillance and education campaigns.
Conveying information to your doctor is critical. While medical professionals have been trained in their respective fields, only you know your body, inside and out, so it is your responsibility to relay as much information about your medical history to help the provider treat the problem.
The most important thing you can ever do is be proactive: Eat well, and in small portions; get daily exercise; don't smoke or use other tobacco products; and omit or limit alcohol consumption.
And ultimately, don't allow a lack of knowledge to be the reason you can't enjoy good health.
Tips for becoming health literate
Ask your doctor to help you understand your diagnosis and treatment, and where to find more information about it. If seeking health information online, look for reputable sites, including government-funded agencies, peer-reviewed journals and online patient communities that feature data that is evidence-based.
Know your history.
Compile a personal medical history as well as a family medical history and keep it handy for when you have a check up, when problems arise or when you are hospitalized. A family medical history portrait, established by the U.S. Surgeon General, can be compiled by going to familyhistory.hhs.gov/fhh-web/familyHistory/start.action
Tell your doctor everything.
Whether you think it's relevant or you may be embarrassed by a health issue, tell the doctor anyway.
. You should never leave a doctor's office or hospital puzzled. If there is no time to discuss your situation in great length, request another appointment or speak with a staff member who can help you with education.
Don't be a know-it-all.
Be careful how you communicate your concerns. Physicians love that you are an informed patient but they want you to respect their role in your health.
Don't be intimidated.
It's OK to speak up if you are concerned about a certain treatment or feel the doctor is overlooking something. But again, be careful how you communicate.