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 Medical Self Advocacy

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Engaging in Primary Health Care

Health care providers are a key part in improving and maintaining overall wellness. They have access to tests and information that can help identify issues and areas of need. There are steps you can make to ensure the best from your primary health care visits

  • Be prepared. Before your health care appointment, make a list of concerns that you want to bring up with your provider and note which are the most important. Be sure to let him or her know at the beginning of the appointment that you have specific questions. An example might be whether monitoring you for risks of diabetes while taking SGAs is appropriate. Don't be afraid to ask follow-up questions if you don't completely understand your provider's responses; your health care provider is there to help you understand how to be healthy, so utilize him or her as your own personal resource for good health. You may want to keep a medical notebook where you can jot down questions or thoughts that come up in between visits, track side effects or keep a chart listing medication refill dates.
  • Do your research. If you have been diagnosed with a specific medical condition, learn as much as you can about it before your next appointment, being careful to avoid self-diagnosis. Your provider will appreciate your efforts and you won't waste time asking questions that you may be able to answer on your own. Before you begin researching, however, make sure that you are only reading information from credible sources. A good place to start is Learn additional information on mental illness medications from the NAMI Web site and from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH).
  • Don't be embarrassed. If you feel shy about addressing a problem with your health care provider, don't forget that you are not the first person to experience this; he or she has probably heard it all before. Just like any good relationship, trust and honesty are very important. The more open you are, the better the chance is that your health care provider will able to partner with you on your road to health and offer you the best guidance.

New Health Care Providers

It can be hard to trust and get comfortable with visiting a health care provider. Many people delay or avoid going. This is human nature. As a way of avoiding this challenge, some people rely solely on emergency department care. It is important to know that this is more difficult to manage. There are often long lines and the care is usually very fragmented.

Think about ways that would make you feel more comfortable seeing a provider on an outpatient basis. Finding someone to go with you, perhaps a trusted friend, family member or, if available, a case manager, might provide the right amount of support and help overcome any anxieties. It may take some time to be comfortable with the staff and a new health care environment, but once this is in place, care will be better in the long term.

Changing Health Care Providers

Changes in health care providers, while stressful, are common. One way to reduce this stress is to know your own health issues and what has been done to address any problems in the past. If the information is available, then the new health care provider will have a better chance to be a partner in developing a new care plan.

Medical Homes

Many people report they have care that is all over the place, resulting in lack of communication between providers. Some people overcome this by engaging in a medical home. A medical home is not a building— it is a concept. Medical home services are usually based out of a primary care office. Medical home services embrace the idea that there is a person and system that individuals visit to receive their care in an organized way and in a central location.

According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, a "patient-centered medical home integrates patients as active participants in their own health and well-being. Patients are cared for by a physician who leads the medical team that coordinates all aspects of preventive, acute and chronic needs of patients using the best available evidence and appropriate technology. These relationships offer patients comfort, convenience and optimal health throughout their lifetimes."

You may need to advocate for access to a medical home; modern medical care is very fragmented in many places. Home is where the heart is. Getting good health care is more likely to occur if a person with mental illness has, or makes, a medical home.

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