A popular Mayo Clinic health guru has updated his popular health-advice book, writing in the second edition of "How Not to Be My Patient" that one of the keys is to educate yourself so that you can take charge, even during emergencies.
"If you can't take charge, you need to know how to call on a network of support for help," said Dr. Edward T. Creagan, a cancer and palliative care specialist.
"Our book provides a roadmap, a blueprint, a playbook for guidance on an incredible journey with high stakes," Creagan said.
New in the past decade, he says, are several factors, including:
* The loss of, and renewed need for, patients to have a primary health provider who can be the "quarterback" to help access the health-care system;
* The rise of palliative care for people with complex and life-altering conditions;
* And the growing acceptance of patient participation in health decision-making, including patient-centric disease management "fueled by the digital community."
According to MayoClinic.edu, Creason "was the first Mayo Clinic consultant to be board-certified in hospice medicine and palliative care."
His book discusses not only how to avoid the need for medical intervention but also how to negotiate a terminal prognosis. It focuses a great deal, as well, on quality of life.
'Insatiable hunger' for health
He subtitled his book "A Physician's Secrets for Staying Healthy and Surviving Any Diagnosis."
"If you were stranded on a deserted island, would you want the company of your pet or your_______? (Fill in the name of the human of your choice.) More than half of people surveyed by the American Animal Hospital Association chose their pets. Think about it. Who's the first one at the front door when you come home?"
Due to the sweeping changes in medical care, Creagan said in an interview, patients, more than ever, "need to be savvy consumers of health care information."
In order to have high quality of life and good health, that requires sorting through a flood of messages, some of which should raise an eyebrow.
Creagan said patients "have an insatiable hunger for responsible health and wellness information and, with our digital world, we have a medium for some information which is not always responsible — and not always in the patient's best interest."
Patients typically now go to YouTube or Google for their "opening connection to the health-care system."
"But, some websites are proprietary, promoting a treatment, a technique, a procedure and there's an expression in Latin, caveat emptor, and that means 'let the buyer be ware,'" Creagan said.
If the website viewed is from a reputable organization, such as Mayo Clinic, the University of Minnesota or Olmsted Medical Center, he emphasized, patients "can be assured that they're getting credible information."
Patients still need a trusted professional, a health provider, to "act as a translator" because online information can be "bewildering and overwhelming."
Advocates are essential
Those who indeed end up needing medical care need to be "engaged and informed" to know what questions to ask, Creagan said. Essential, he said, is the need for a patient advocate to accompany you when getting medical diagnoses and treatment advice. That can be a spouse, a partner, other family member or friend.
When dealing with cancer, patients retain very little factual information when life-altering news is being delivered.
When a couple visit with the doctor together, "between the two of them, the retention is better than if the woman were by herself," Creagan said. His book, written in partnership with Sandra Wendel, focuses on a "holistic concept of wellness."
Indeed, the authors write, complementary medicine has a role.
Chanting, for example, "helps you withdraw your mental focus from worldly matters." Attitude matters, Creagan emphasizes, noting patients can survive "just about any diagnosis."
Key are a belief system, religious or otherwise, focused on participating in a set of associated rules and regulations; a search for meaning in life, often through spirituality; and a sense of connectedness to parents, neighbors, coworkers and others.
Sure, Creagan also expounds upon important health topics, such as there is "no safe sun." And adequate sleep is essential daily. So is exercising for fun. And eating a well-balanced diet that you plan ahead by making a grocery list (with lots of colorful fruits and vegetables) that you stick to. Especially good are leafy greens, broccoli, carrots, peppers and fresh vegetables, when available.
But it's lifestyle overall, Creagan says, that can make a difference.
Be vigilant about your health, he says, "so you will not be my patient."