Making Wise Health Decisions

Topic Overview

Throughout your life you will have to make health decisions for yourself and your family. The decisions you make will influence your overall well-being as well as the quality and cost of your care. People who learn as much as they can about their choices often are more confident about the decisions they make. And in general, people who work with their doctors to make health decisions are happier with the care they receive and the results they achieve.

Why should you partner with your doctor to make decisions? Aren't you paying him or her to know what to do? It's not always clear what choices are the right ones for you. There are often several approaches to diagnosing and treating a health problem. And you are more likely to feel better about the chosen approach if it is the one best suited to your needs and values. Sometimes the best choice is to say “no” to care you don't need.

The best formula for making health decisions is to combine the most reliable medical facts with your personal values. These include your beliefs, fears, lifestyle, and experiences, and they all play a role in helping you make decisions about your health.

Put more simply:

Medical Information + Your Information = Wise Health Decisions

Skills for Making Wise Health Decisions

The following are some simple steps for you to follow when you have a health decision to make. Depending on the decision, the process may take a few minutes, a few hours, or several weeks. Take as much time as you need to make the decision that is right for you.

  1. What are your choices? Tell your doctor that you want to share in making the decision. Ask your doctor to clearly state the decision that needs to be made and what your choices are.
  2. Get the facts. Learn all about each option by using resources like the library, your doctor, and reliable Web sites you can trust. Make sure the information you collect is based on sound medical research, not the results of a single study or facts published by a company that will profit by your using its product.
  3. What do you think? Consider your own needs and values and what you hope for as the best possible outcome. Talk with family members and others who will be affected by your decision. Then sort out the information you've gathered. Make a list of pros and cons as you see them for each option. You may want to share your list with your doctor to make sure you have all the information you need.
  4. Try on a decision. Write down what you expect will happen if you choose a particular option. Ask your doctor if what you expect is reasonable. Ask again about the side effects, pain, recovery time, cost, or long-term outcomes of that option. Then see if you still feel it's the best choice for you.
  5. Make an action plan. After you and your doctor have made a decision, find out what you can do to make sure that you will have the best possible outcome. Write down the steps that you need to take next. Think positively about your decision, and do your part to ensure success by following your doctor's advice. Remember, when you share in making a decision, you share the responsibility for the outcome.

Credits

Author Debby Golonka, MPH
Editor Susan Van Houten, RN, BSN, MBA
Associate Editor Pat Truman, MATC
Primary Medical Reviewer Sarah Marshall, MD - Family Medicine
Last Updated April 21, 2009

Last Updated: April 21, 2009

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