By: Mary Lloyd

Healthcare has become an astronomically expensive part of life. There are lots of directions to point fingers, but the only place where you have any real control is your own behavior. Taking care of your health without being taken over by the system is a tricky proposition.

What can we do to be good healthcare consumers?

Seeing it as your personal responsibility instead of expecting someone to make you feel better whenever you don’t is a great start. We all need to take responsibility for eating wisely, being active enough to keep our bodies functioning well, and foregoing things that aren’t good for us physically – like tobacco and stress.

That’s a personal quest that will be unique for each of us, but it’s still ours to do. Too often, we agree to take a pill instead of improving our lifestyle choices. That’s simpler for “the machine” than keeping track of how you’re doing on an ongoing basis and it’s simpler for you.

But think about the side effects. Very rarely do prescription drugs come with positive side effects. When you agree to take that pill instead of going the “harder’ route, you may well end up with another problem – or more than one – because of what the drug is doing to your body. With lifestyle choices, the opposite is true. When you decide to start walking to reduce your stress, you’ll soon discover that it’s also helping you – with your weight, your endurance, and maybe even your outlook.

So as a first step, every time you have the option, choose to make the lifestyle choice rather than asking your body to deal with a drug–or a surgical procedure.

The second piece of this is being selective in how you interact with your healthcare providers. An intelligent approach to healthcare is no longer simply a case of knowing when to call the doctor. Many healthcare organizations give you more than one option for getting help. Calling the 24/7 Nurse Hotline may give you enough information to deal with the problem. Going to the urgent care clinic instead of the emergency room will get you in and out faster. (Get your medical drama on TV.)

Forego the temptation of asking the doctor to “fix it” every time you feel uncomfortable. Seeing your family physician for a head cold after three days wastes your time and someone’s (yours or Medicare’s) money. Many things go away on their own if given the chance. Be smart about deciding both when you need to get your healthcare provider involved and how you access them. Learn the difference between “pain” and “discomfort.”

Every time you end up in that doctor’s office you take on two additional risks. First, because sick people go there, you might end up catching something a lot worse than what you went to get help with. Second, once you are “in the system,” your control over what will and won’t be done diminishes considerably.

To stay as far away from “the machine” as you can and still be responsible, you need to make wise decisions about both IF and HOW to get your health care providers involved.

The third leg of this stool is having as much in place as you can so that when you do need significant amounts of medical care, your healthcare providers and loved ones are aware of what you do and don’t want. If you are coherent, ask questions. Find out what the procedure they want to do will accomplish and why it’s important to do it. (I’ve instructed my sons not to let anyone do tests and procedures on me simply to “try something.” That kind of guessing game rarely does more than run up a huge bill and make the patient miserable.)

It also helps to do all you can to identify what’s happening yourself. Make a strong effort to explain the pain or problem concisely rather than just saying “My side hurts.” We could probably save ten hours of every medical professional’s work week if we were better at this. They are trying to help. If you don’t help them, they will resort to more tests and procedures to figure out things you could have told them.

Be clear – with your family and the medical staff – about what’s wrong, what you need, and what you don’t want.

These three strategies might not keep “the machine” totally out of your life, but they will help you minimize your encounters with it. Sounds good to me.

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Mary Lloyd is a speaker and consultant and author of ‘Supercharged Retirement:  Ditch the Rocking Chair, Trash the Remote, and Do What You Love.’  For more, see her website at: http://www.mining-silver.com