Woman working on laptop at home on the couch.

As I wrote about here, too many patients hand the power of their health over to physicians who they believe will fix them, and then if the doctor fails to cure what ails them, they get frustrated and feel like helpless victims of bad luck or bad genes.

But studies show that being proactive about your health not only results in better health care; it also strengthens your body’s natural self-repair mechanisms and helps your body fend off illness.

Your body is your business!  Even though most of us doctors went to school for over a decade, ostensibly so we’d know your body better than you do, nobody knows what’s best for your body, mind, and soul as much as you do. Your body is your business because you are the gatekeeper of your mind, and it’s your responsibility to protect your body from the poisonous effect toxic thoughts, beliefs, and feelings have on your body’s physiology.

There are many ways you can be an empowered patient, but here are a few tips for taking the power of your health back into your own hands.

1. Guard your mind and reject negative health beliefs.

Just because your doctor tells you there’s only a 10% chance you’ll get better doesn’t mean you have to think like a pessimist and look at the glass as 9/10 empty. Reframe the numbers and focus on the fact that 10% of people with your disease get well – and for the 10% who do, the other 90% don’t matter.  Remember that those positive health outcomes aren’t just flukes. Those who get well against all odds share common proactive characteristics. (To learn 6 scientifically proven proactive things people with stage 4 cancer who experience spontaneous remission share, read Mind Over Medicine.)

2. Avoid toxic situations when possible.

If you feel like a victim- of an abusive childhood, a toxic marriage, a soul-sucking job, a demeaning boss, a bankruptcy, or whatever- find a way to reclaim your power. Dig deep within and call upon the strength you’ll need to make healthy changes in your life, even if it means financial loss, loss of status, disappointing others, or other undesired consequences that may accompany extricating yourself from mind-poisoning circumstances. If you can’t change your circumstance, you still have the power to change your attitude.

3. Don’t be afraid to question your doctor.

Remember, medicine is a service industry. If you didn’t feel like your car was in the very best hands possible, you’d find another auto mechanic. Proactive patients- the ones who have the best health outcomes- don’t hesitate to ask their doctors questions, get second opinions, and switch health care providers if the fit isn’t right.

For example, when your doctor makes a diagnosis, ask your doctor, “What else could it be?” Every doctor should have what’s called a “differential diagnosis,” and sometimes asking your doctor to expand the scope of what your diagnosis could be can leapfrog you to optimal health sooner.

4. Be the conscientious gatekeeper of your mind.

You may not be able to perform your own surgery or prescribe your own drugs, but your body is your business because you are the gatekeeper of your thoughts, beliefs, and feelings. It’s your responsibility to make sure you cut back on stress responses in the body and activate relaxation responses so that instead of poisoning your body with the side effects of toxic thoughts, your mind is full of love, hope, optimism, passion, joy, pleasure, creativity, and a sense of purpose- all of which have been scientifically proven to heal the body.

5. Listen to your intuition.

You have within you the voice of what I call your “Inner Pilot Light”, and this voice serves as your own personal physician. When addressing issues that are affecting your life, especially those that may be harming your health, your inner doctor is on call 24/7 to help you make the right decisions that help you heal.

6. Do your homework.

Some doctors let their egos interfere with optimal patient care, and it’s possible that you actually know more about your disease than your doctor does. (This is especially true if your disease is rare or if you have been researching your illness personally.)  The reality is that the more informed you are about the options for treatment of your health condition, the better care you’ll get.

7. Keep your own medical record.

Ask for copies of all lab tests, radiology reports, and doctor’s notes. Having all of your health information in your own hot little hands can help expedite communication between your health care providers so you’re not dependent on someone who takes a week to fax your records when you need them now.

8. Talk to other patients who share your diagnosis.

The internet has made it easier than ever to find others who are dealing with the same conditions you are. You just might meet someone on a forum who share with you treatment options that are just what the doctor ordered. But be cautious. The internet is also rife with misinformation. Gather information, but don’t believe everything you read on the internet.

9. Be the squeaky wheel.

If you’re leaving messages with your doctor and not getting your needs met, call back- respectfully but often. If your insurance company is denying your claim, appeal the decision! It shouldn’t be this way, but the old adage “The squeaky wheel gets the grease” is definitely true when it comes to navigating our broken health care system.

10. Make a list.

If you have questions for your doctor or issues you want to be sure get addressed, make a list and let your doctor know you have a list of issues. Your doctor may ask you to choose only the top priorities on your list, if time is too limited, but if you don’t get all your issues addressed, make a second appointment so all your needs are met.

11. If you’re not sure what to do, ask for more time.

If you feel like your doctor is pressuring you to make a decision you’re not ready to make, ask for time. If you’re in the middle of having a heart attack or stroke, or if you’ve been in a car accident and need surgery, time may be of the essence. But for the majority of treatments, even when you’re dealing with something potentially lethal like cancer, it rarely hurts to wait a few days- or even a few weeks- until you’re comfortable you’re making the right decision- for YOU.

Remember, Your Body Is Your Business!

How are you a proactive patient? Tell us your stories in the comments.


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19 Comments

  1. Evangelina Aguilar

    I had no choice but to become a very proactive patient, and truly an advocate for myself. I have to say that none, none not even doctors know your body as you do. It does not matter how many years the doctors studied, or if they are the most brilliant mind, None and I mean None knows your body better than you do. (the patient). Now the issue is that, society has given doctors the green light for everything and they are sort of Gods, not to be questioned; the other issue is that if one as a patient is to take the lead, one must truly listen to one’s body, inner voice, soul and spirit, and this takes not only time, but truly going within. And searching or going within and truly being honest with one self, is very difficult for most of us humans but once you do, you will be amazed how your body not only heals, but guides you as to what is best. In my case I know more about the dis-ease than all the doctors I have seen; I question everything, not because I dont believe, or other but because it is my body and is the only one I have to house my soul and spirit, and the only one I have to live in while I am on this earth. I research and research, and if someone does not want to listen to me as a whole person and sees me only as the disease, or the tumor or the diagnose, I walk away. While doctors can help they can and have done so much damage not only by misdiagnosing, and other stuff, but also continue to treat patients as if they have no clue about their bodies, dont ask about other things going on in life, many at times ignore some social/medical and other history in the patient’s life. So in short, to be a proactive patient here are my humble suggestions : 1) Dont Panic when given a diagnosis: remember there is a prognosis, and here is where the patient plays the most important role. also remember you were created by a divine force, a higher power, not a doctor. 2) rely on you mainly but have support: when at the doctor take a good friend or relative who is non judgmental but who will be there to support you. you can have your friend tape the meeting with the MD or take notes, then you can go over those later. 3) be informed: do your research, ask ask ask. now a days with the internet we have infinite access to information, and yes while some information is not legitimate, tons of it is. search for people who have your condition, talk to them, ask, ask ask. The world is bigger than the city where one lives. 4) Find a second or third opinion~ and I strongly suggest you do. No way one person can know everything. 5) Seek natural real medicine (what they so call alternative) Ayurveda, shamanism, homeopathy, naturopathy, iridioloy, acupuncture, hijama, etc.. the list is huge. These natural practices of medicine have been going on for centuries (with few exceptions) and remember allopathic medicine barely a hundred or two? and even that most of the studies and stats have been funded by the pharma, so ..(PS every culture I have learned about or people in a different culture, has their own traditional and natural medicine systems.. with plants, rituals, etc.. many of those do work) .. 6) keep your records in one box, or have someone you trust to keep them. I would stay away from reading them over and over and over. just keep them should you need them for references. 6) remember you are not alone: in my journey I found so much kindness and care from total strangers. I began to see the kindness that has been there all along, i was just not looking. ask for help from others if you feel overwhelmed; seek groups that are addressing your condition or similar conditions. I found there are amazing doctors, scientists, nurses, social workers, regular people, naturopaths, and just regular people who are helping many of us, out of the willingness and kindness of their heart….. you will also be giving back to others when you exchange communication. 7) believe in your inner guide,/pilot/wisdom to guide you to what is best for you, once you have all the information on your hands. Your body has that wisdom to guide you, your body, well our bodies, will not give in, they were created perfect so why would a perfect machine like our bodies want to destroy itself? how do you let your higher wisdom guide you? well, several steps, but the ones that helped me are: honest, pure, and true self love, meditation , trust and prayer. and 8) finally believe with your heart soul body mind and spirit that this too shall pass and that there is a reason for it to be in your body. That there is a lesson, that your body is crying for help and wanting you to balance your life, your body loves you. Believe in your purpose and life so strong that there is not other way but for you to be healthy and strong. and remember healing true healing does not take place overnight. much love, healing and light. Angelina

    Reply
    • healingforall

      What you have written is so true, that we know our bodies the best if we
      truly listen to what it is telling us. Many of us have lost touch with
      our bodies, drive it too hard without giving it the care that it needs.
      We need to educate ourselves, address the root causes, and do our best
      to support its natural healing, using medical intervention only when it
      is absolutely necessary. Having a good doctor who is respectful, a good
      listener and who believes that you know your body best – ie who can be a
      true partner in one’s healing journey – is hard to find but which can
      help us to be empowered and supported if we are lucky enough to find
      one. Thank you for sharing.

      Reply
      • Evangelina Aguilar

        yes if one can find a wonderful doctor who listens and who works with you not just for you or the pharma industry ~ will be huge in healing. I was not so lucky at all, with the doctors here in MN. I found one but he sees people only three times.. he is one in a million …….. the answers are always within, always! look no further, and all that others can do is help /support you but at the end of the day is YOU!

        Reply
        • healingforall

          Agree, it is very, very hard to find one. I have yet to find one. I am very sad and disappointed that the health system is the way it is. You are right that at the end of the day it comes down to ús’. Having a truly caring and listening doctor would make a difference to the journey, with us in the driver’s seat always because it is our body. Wish there are more doctors like Dr Lissa Rankin.

          Reply
    • Jo Post

      Same here when I had my thyroid removed, after a year of suffering on the “standard” medication, research took me to a new doctor who gave me the medicine that saved my life.

      Reply
      • natty

        Jo Post…my husband has been on the “standard” thyroid medication for A little over a year without symptom relief. His dr keeps saying his thyroid levels are normal and doesn’t offer options. May I ask what medication helped you?

        Reply
    • Suzanne

      Thanks Angelina. This is very helpful. I need to get back to doing meditation. I just feel like I am wasting time because my mind will not slow down. I’m sure I am not alone in that feeling. Thanks for the other reminders as well.

      Reply
  2. Joy Golliver

    When I cared for my husband with Alzheimer’s for 10 years I learned a lot about communicating with the doctor plus hospitalists, hospitals, emergency rooms, etc. I became a tough advocate out of necessity. I even went into the business of caring for the caregiver of any age or illness. We want them to stay healthy and whole through their journey long or short term. We have what we call The Doctors Letter, which teaches you how to communicate when the doctor gives a medicare patient just 10 minutes. See http://www.joygolliver.com and our new nonprofit, http://www.touchedbyjoy.com. We also have virtual classes online teaching people how to practice self care and self love. And oh yes, I refer them to YOU.

    Reply
  3. Susan Gallacher-Turner

    Lissa,
    Thank you for backing me up! I’ve done all these things at times with various doctors and it’s really helped me. Now, that said, it doesn’t always help doctor/patient relations. Some doctors can get very offended but what I found out over the years is that the really, really good doctors listen and appreciate that I’m involved in my own health. If they get pushy and I push back, they respect my decision.

    Oh, and when a drug commercial comes on the TV, I always change the channel. I don’t need that kind of negative ju ju either!

    Reply
  4. Chara Armon

    Thank you, Lissa. This is an inspiring list.

    Reply
  5. Martha

    Overall, I am happy with my doctor, and usually leave his office feeling better about my health. One time he told me that I couldn’t tell when my blood pressure is up or down, but I know I can. He said nobody can accurately tell, but I know how I feel when it’s up too high, because when it goes back down suddenly I feel good again! When it’s up, I’m tired all the time, and when it’s down I feel energized.
    I’ve learned not to disagree with him because he takes it personally..like he knows so much more and has seen so many patients. But he is very good about asking me questions, and if I want another treatment option, and talks in a very positive manner that makes me feel reassured. So I think I’ll keep him, but also keep my own counsel and do my own research when I need answers.

    Reply
  6. Chris Ward

    Lissa,
    thank you for your inspiring post. Can I offer my story (quickly):
    in 2010 I experienced a severe shortness of breath during a run. I have been running for 30 years and this was the first time I couldn’t finish a simple run. Some months later I experienced tingling in my left arm. Heart attack, right?
    No. I went to my then-doctor who berated me in his office that I had had a heart attack. But when I maxed out the treadmill stress test, he said, “Well, if you have any more symptoms, call me.”
    I ended up with another doctor who said, “if it’s not your heart, let’s look at your lungs”, In other words, a “differential diagnosis.” To the point, what we discovered together, my doctor and I is that I had a fist-sized tumor sitting on my left kidney. Radical nephrectomy later it turns out I also have asthma. The cancer is gone and two years later no sign. But if I had not sought out another doctor and been forceful about my concerns, I’d be dead today.
    Not long ago i asked the pulmonologist I’ve been seeing if there is a core cause to my asthma. My fiance and I have been reading your book. He told me just to stay on my asthma medications and I’ll be fine. He dismissed me.
    Your book and experience have helped my fiance and I reframe our approach to our health.
    I now need to find a holistic doctor in my area who can help me find the core cause to my asthma. It’s ironic to me that someone who has run for 30 years and depends on the ability to breathe is suddenly having so much difficulty getting air. I could use help finding a doctor who, like you, could help me solve my asthma issue.
    Thank you.

    Reply
  7. Julieta Arango

    Priceless article Lissa. I, as an optometrist, encourage my patients to be proactive with their health, and I also try to teach them the benefits for the eye of a good health. As a patient, I am proactive. I only go to doctors who can sit with me and talk one on one about my health. I only hope more doctors read post like this, and change their mind about the “supremacy of medicine”.

    Reply
  8. Jo Post

    I went to the Acute Care in our area a couple weeks ago. I knew I needed antibiotics for my head/chest cold and being a diabetic, I will get them when I need them – not when I “think” I need them. Sometimes a cold is just that – a cold. But this had turned and I knew I had to get the meds to keep it from getting worse. So I’m in there and telling them my symptoms and why I was there. Then the doctor discovered I had stopped smoking about 7 months ago. All of a sudden he forgot why I was there and kept telling me now that I had quit smoking, I might very well have COPD and that is why I now had bronchitis. I looked at him and said, “You will NOT put that crap in my head. I have bronchitis. End of discussion.” He kept on saying COPD like a danged chant. After he wrote my script for the antibiotics, I asked him if he was getting a monetary kick back for some new and improved COPD drug. He just blinked at me. I said again, “I do not have COPD and you’re not going to stick that crap in my brain.” My personal doctor checks my lungs and breathing when I’m in there every 6 months and he would have caught it if something was going on. And I am a patient that has a list of stuff I want to talk about when I go in so I won’t forget. COPD my big ol’ butt. I refuse that negativity. (snort).

    Reply
  9. Suzanne

    Thanks for this Lissa. I am doing well at some of these but still need to work on getting all of the negative thoughts out of my head. It is a process, I will keep at it. On the plus side I am doing much better on listening to my intuition. Thanks for the reminders.

    Reply
  10. T Diaz

    This list of 11 ways to be proactive is a keeper! There are 3 specific instances in which I’ve needed to push myself to be proactive: to have a specific culture done, to have the doctor come in the room to look at something the NP thought couldn’t be what I thought it was, and had a $7000 ER bill written off when I had initially correctly diagnosed myself in the Urgent Care but the ultrasound didn’t catch the ovarian cyst that a CAT scan did 12 hours and 10 miles away in the ER. Each time, my intellect and intuition proved right and I had to get out of my comfort zone and be assertive to be heard. It can feel daunting to challenge the messages we might have grown up with, especially as women, to be polite, to not be that squeaky wheel, to be a “good patient,” especially when you’re in the inherently vulnerable position of being a patient and in need of medical care. It takes some reframing of the dynamic between patient and doctor to see it as a partnership and yourself as a consumer, not just a helpless patient. It’s so refreshing and very validating to hear from an MD who embraces this paradigm shift in the doctor-patient relationship. Thank you, Lissa!

    Reply

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