Here’s a pop quiz: When you receive recommendations from your doctor, do you:
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- Follow them completely?
- Follow some recommendations and disregard others?
- Follow advice you find online instead?
Your answer may vary depending on how you feel about your doctor. But for personalized healthcare — healthcare that is built around you — to be truly effective, you need a certain level of trust.
When a doctor recommends that you lose a few pounds, for example, that recommendation is based on your family health history and an understanding of the many health problems that come from being overweight. In other words, it is personal — but don’t take it personally. The doctor has your best interests in mind.
Also, guidelines for mammograms, colonoscopies and other health screenings are designed to identify disease and treat it as early and effectively as possible. For example, doctors recommend that most people begin receiving colonoscopies at age 50 to detect pre-cancerous changes. This is because people at average risk for developing colon cancer typically do so after age 50. If you wait until age 60 to get your first colonoscopy, you might put yourself at higher risk for developing colon cancer.
In addition, if you have a family history of colon cancer, or certain conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease, your doctor may recommend a colonoscopy before you are 50 — that’s where the “personalized” part comes into play.
What can you do?
There are steps you can take to make the most out of your doctor’s visits:
Collect your family history before your visit. For example, if your dad, grandmother and uncle have diabetes, that’s valuable information that will help your doctor tailor care to you. And once you have collected your history, be sure to keep it up to date as it changes over time. Your annual well-check is the perfect time to do so.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions. If you’re uncertain why a doctor is recommending a screening or a lifestyle change, ask them for the reasoning behind it. Understanding the why makes a big difference.
Follow through on recommendations. A doctor can recommend a colonoscopy, but it’s up to you to schedule the appointment and go. The same goes for lifestyle choices. For example, if your doctor recommends that you lose weight, ask for tips on how to do it most effectively — and how to keep track of your weight loss.
Personalized healthcare can help you take control of your care and become an empowered patient. Think of personalized healthcare as a two-way street: It can give you the tools to improve your health, but it is up to you to use them.
Contributor: Kathryn Teng, MD