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4 Ways to Take Ownership of your Health

If your health is top of mind right now, like it is with so many other people, it’s time to take ownership of it. As a family physician, I know that my patients are more motivated and empowered to take action when I can build a care plan around their specific risk factors, lifestyle, and goals. One size does not fit all when it comes to your health.

To ensure optimal health & wellness, you must be at the center of an individualized care plan. I encourage you to incorporate these 4 Ps into your approach to healthcare; Predictive, Preventive, Personalized, and Participatory.

Predictive – What are your risk factors?

In a perfect world, we could predict future health ailments and avoid them. While we’re not quite there yet, there are tools such as genetic testing that can show what you are predisposed to and how best to treat conditions as they arise. On the other hand, simply understanding your family health history goes a long way to you owning the predictive side of your healthcare.

Find out about medical conditions that existed in your family tree, including when and how they were treated. Ask your physician to help you identify factors in your geographic or socio-economic environment that are associated with health risks. They can also inform you about risks that you have developed due to your current or past lifestyle. All of this information is invaluable in helping your physician develop a care plan based on specific conditions in your life.

As examples, did you grow up in a family of smokers, or on the prairies with fair skin? Both could lead your physician down varying paths of prediction and future testing. Have your parents had difficulty finding relief from pain medications or anesthesia associated with surgery? In this instance, perhaps pharmacogenetics (simple genetic testing that shows which medications work best for you) would help you to best predict your response to various potentially necessary medications.

Preventive – What can you do to diminish those risks?

Awareness is critical in the prevention of disease. If you’ve taken action on being predictive, you have a better idea of the risks you face. Now it’s time for you and your healthcare team to identify ways of mitigating those risks, reducing the chance that you will develop a serious or debilitating health issue.

Your personalized health plan may suggest prescription medications, dietary changes, exercise recommendations and possibly resilience building activities for both your physical and mental health. It is important to remember these suggestions and carefully consider their impact on your longevity and wellbeing, even if you’re not quite ready to make all of the changes.

You should ensure that your physician and health team provide you with reminders for all evidence-based tests, examinations, and assessments required to detect disease at the earliest possible opportunity, when treatment is most effective. If they are not, you should be diligent about putting them into your own calendar.

Personalized – What is going to work for you?

This is where you and your care team can be creative. Life is a series of choices. You can’t completely eliminate every risk, nor would you want to in most cases. Living a long and full life is about balance. A care plan that simply suggests implementing every textbook intervention is likely a plan that will not succeed. You need a plan that can be easily integrated into your lifestyle so healthy habits can begin to form and last over the long term.

Small adjustments are important. Taking your medication as directed is a good start. You don’t need a gym membership to get the exercise you need. Life is busy and perhaps you don’t have the time. Remember, it’s mostly about movement. The addition of a jaunt around the block at dawn and dusk or adding a stand-up desk to your office may be the subtle change you need. Both could make huge differences to back pain, sleep patterns, and even your mood. If you are currently having three or more alcoholic drinks per day, reducing that to one or two will have a huge effect on your overall health, including the prevention of cognitive impairment.

In short, there is no point of having a health care plan that isn’t realistic. You need a plan that fits your lifestyle now, and one that can reduce your risks over time through small, incremental, and important changes.

Participatory – Are you committed?

There is no health plan that will be truly successful without your commitment. Armed with the knowledge that you have about your health risks, what you can do to reduce them, and how changes will impact your life, you need to decide what you are ready for and fully participate in the process. It is common to get support from your physician, trainers, coaches and other members of your health team. The important thing is that you are ready to do your part.

You are in control of the next chapter of your life. And that chapter will set a great foundation for the next one if you follow the 4 Ps.

Dr. Beth Donaldson is the Medical Director at Harrison Healthcare’s Vancouver clinic. She is passionate about personalized, preventive healthcare, empowering patients to attain their health goals. She believes wholeheartedly in collaboration and team-based care to ensure the best possible outcomes for her patients. And of course, she practices what she preaches daily, keeping up with two active sons and walking their dog around the neighborhood (often).


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