When I heard that February is Wise Health Care Consumer Month, I of course initially wondered, “What does that mean?” Then, I asked the more targeted question: What does it mean to be a wise health care consumer?
Breaking it down
We of course have to break this down a bit. Not only do we need to ask the question above—what does being a wise health care consumer mean, but we have to unpack what being a consumer of health care might mean! After all, my thought process is: when we “consume” something, it is used up—like paper or donuts or time, in that things are time consuming.
A 2015 Forbes article by Robert Pearl, M.D., asked “Are you a patient or a healthcare consumer?”  After all, we use up our own resources—time, money, patience, being patients.  It is also argued that perhaps instead of renaming patients to be healthcare consumers we instead redefine what it means to be a patient.  To explain it briefly, being a healthcare consumer means you have choices in your medical care: choices in your treatment, doctors you see, medicines you take, and hospital you go to.
Which means, as a consumer we have to be a bit “savvy”—or, wise.  We have to put the work in to do research, make good choices, and ultimately, be not just patients but “ePatients”—engaged patients who are a part of the process, not passive in their healthcare like the term patient alone implies.
How can you be a wise healthcare consumer?
There are many ways you can become a wise healthcare consumer. Most of them come down to self-advocacy—where, instead of simply trusting “doctor knows best”, you learn all you need to, explore your disease and treatment options on your own, and find a physician who is a good fit for you.
Here are some ways to become a wise healthcare consumer:
- Learn about your treatment: how it is supposed to work, how your symptoms should improve, what side effects can be expected, and how you can manage them.  Find out if alternatives exist —is surgery for an injury necessary or can you do exercises? Are there alternatives to a more expensive drug that may be less expensive?
- Make the most of doctor appointments by writing down what you want to cover —put your top 3 questions first and make follow-up appointments to deal with the rest if you can’t get to them.
- Check your medical bills and insurance statements thoroughly. If you think something should be covered but isn’t, look into it. 
- Learn how to read important lab test results. 
- Do your research: If you see something guaranteed to “cure” you or be a “miracle treatment”, especially online or on TV, check with your doctor or other patients to ensure it is legitimate.  Don’t fall for the “snake oil salesman”!
- Check with a pharmacist to see if an over the counter test (ie. blood glucose, STI), is an okay solution for you, or if you should see a doctor.  Pharmacists can be a great, under-utilized resource.
- If you don’t like your doctor, find out how to see someone else so that you can be more confident in your care, and happier. Seeing a doctor you are comfortable with will ensure you are able to communicate and receive the best care. 
- Change yourself: your doctor should give you advice, but if you are looking to change your behaviour—diet, exercise, lose weight, quit smoking, generally become healthier—you may need assistance from others along the way.  Doctors often have little training in nutrition, for example, so seeing a dietitian may be a good idea. If you have no idea where to start with exercise, find a personal trainer or a friend who can assist you.
It is a lot more work to be a wise consumer—but you will probably be healthier for it in the end.
Another way to be smart about your health is to wear a medical ID bracelet or medical alert necklace. When you choose a My Identity Doctor medical ID, you will be even smarter—our stainless steel bracelets are waterproof and tough, meaning they can take what you throw at them!