by Lissa Rankin, MD

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 beliefsJust 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 experienced, read Mind Over Medicine.)
  2. Avoid toxic situations when possibleIf 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 doctorRemember, 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 mindYou 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 homeworkSome 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 recordAsk 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 diagnosisThe 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 shares 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 wheelIf 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 listIf 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 timeIf 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!