December 2023: 5 Ways to Be Your Own Best Health Advocate

Written by Gloria Martinez of in collaboration with Ruth Roylance for Ruth Roylance Insurance

Doctors are the medical experts, but healthcare is a team effort. When it comes to healthy living, with or without a medical diagnosis, patients can be experts on themselves and their experiences. Start working toward becoming your own advocate with these strategies, and your doctor (and your body) will thank you. These tips can help get you started.

1. Make Healthy Choices a Conscious Decision

Making smarter choices in your daily life is a conscious decision that can have a big impact. Even if you’re busy, simple swaps like taking the stairs instead of the elevator or going for a walk during your lunch hour contribute to healthier living.

Over time, these simple changes will become habits. Forming good habits is one of the most challenging parts of life, whether health-focused or otherwise. Healthline says to work on cementing habits for at least two months, based on studies that suggested 66 days was the average turning point.

This all starts with maintaining a well-kept living space to reduce stress. Keeping your home decluttered offers numerous advantages for your physical and mental well-being. A clutter-free environment promotes reduced stress levels and improved mental health by creating a sense of calm and order. It enhances your physical health by reducing allergens and safety hazards associated with clutter.

It’s also important to maintain consistent physical activity. Walking is a great habit in this respect. To find good local areas to walk in, consult a Walk Score map. This tool ranks areas based on walkability, so high scoring areas will be your best bets. Eventually, healthy options will become the default instead of an afterthought. Put in the time and effort, and it will ultimately pay off.

2. Learn Your Insurance Plan Information

Insurance can be confusing, and limitations, co-pays, out-of-network charges, and long wait times can make things worse. But understanding your plan (and options) is crucial for advocating for your health. Every plan is different, whether you have taxpayer-funded or private insurance, and the care you receive will impact how much you pay out of pocket and what your policy covers.

Many plans will have extra benefits such as free gym memberships or at-home fitness kits, chiropractic, or an over-the-counter allowance to help pay for non-prescription medication such as pain relievers, cold medicine, or vitamins. To find out more about what your plan offers, search for a copy of your Summary of Benefits and/or your Evidence of Coverage (a much more detailed document). If you cannot find these documents or have questions about your coverage or policy, call your insurer directly or enact the help of a broker, such as Ruth Roylance Insurance. Additionally, learn about healthcare regulations and laws to be the best advocate for yourself.

3. Maintain Copies of Medical Records

Medical records are more accessible than ever to patients, but the paperwork pile might seem to grow every time you see the doctor. If you need to see a specialist (or multiple), paperwork becomes even more critical for receiving timely care.

Keeping personal copies of your medical history and prescription drugs can help appointments go more smoothly, especially with new providers. It also helps your medical insurance broker make informed decisions on which insurance plans to recommend. This can be made easy if you use an OCR software to scan your records. Digital records are simple to maintain and keep on hand. Sharing is simple via any tablet, smartphone, or computer, too. Many providers now utilize online systems, such as MyChart, that allow them and you to help keep track of your appointments, history, test results and prescription drug information. You can also communicate directly with your providers through such systems. Ask your provider if they have an online system they work with and if they can provide you with your login information.

4. Become the Expert on Your Health

Whether you have a chronic health condition or rarely see the doctor, being the expert on you makes it easier to self-advocate. Google can make for a good start, but finding trustworthy resources is crucial. Read up on your condition or symptoms and approach care appointments as collaborations.

Chronic illness can be debilitating, but no one knows your symptoms or experiences better than you. It may take a lot of energy to cope with chronic illness, but Cleveland Clinic recommends finding your own experts, facilitating communication across your care team, and reaching out to people with experience when you have questions. Take care, however, when selecting your providers as some may be considered out-of-network. If you are on an HMO or EPO plan, you must stay in-network for the services to be covered. If you have a PPO you may see out-of-network providers at a higher out-of-network cost. If you are on a Medigap plan (Medicare supplement), you may see any provider you wish that accepts Medicare with no out-of-pocket costs. To learn if the provider you wish to see is in-network, contact your health insurance carrier or a broker, such as Ruth Roylance Insurance.

5. Prioritize Preventative Care

Avoiding illness sounds far better than getting sick and struggling to get better, yet many people skip preventative care that could help them avoid poor health. At the very least, regular visits to your primary care physician can lead to early diagnosis and treatment where needed. Though every person is different, suggests seeing your primary doctor and dentist a minimum of once per year and visiting the eye doctor a minimum of once every two years. OB/GYN visits should also happen yearly, as applicable. And in terms of costs, the good news is that most preventative care in health insurance is covered with no out-of-pocket expenses!

Staying active between visits is a must, too. If you are a senior, low-impact exercises are particularly beneficial as they promote strength and muscle tone without putting undue stress on the joints. Some effective strength-training activities for older adults include resistance band exercises, wall push-ups, and seated leg lifts, all of which can be modified to accommodate an individual's fitness level. By incorporating these gentle exercises into a regular routine, seniors can maintain or even improve their muscle strength, thereby supporting better balance, mobility, and overall health. Again, fitness benefits such as a gym membership may be included in your plan at no cost to you!

Taking charge of your health is about more than being a good patient. Understanding your health insurance and being proactive, health-conscious, and communicative with your healthcare team does so much more than safeguard your health. Advocating for your care experience puts you in charge and makes your provider’s job easier.

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