When a panel of leading medical experts concluded this spring that patients were receiving too many medical tests – often to their detriment – it was another reminder of the fallibility of the medical profession and a wake-up call that we all need to take charge of our own health. "Doctors don't know everything," says Dr. Emily Rubenstein Engel, a physician at San Diego's Scripps Clinics.
The age of the family doctor is over. There was a time when physicians had only a handful of patients, rarely farmed them out to specialists, and didn't make decisions influenced by pharmaceutical incentives, insurance policies, or the constant threat of malpractice suits. These days, managing your own health care is largely up to you – no matter how eminent your physician or how much you're paying. More doctors are specialists, reluctant to diagnose or treat beyond their field, and are overbooked and overwhelmed by patient quota, hospital demands, and insurance-company red tape.
You have to be your own health advocate – to ensure that you see the best physicians, get enough time with them, ask the right questions, and are given the right drugs and tests, so that you can make lifestyle changes to treat and prevent problems. "Optimizing your health is not something you do at your doctor's office – it's something you do with yourself every day," says Dr. Jacob Teitelbaum, an integrative physician and national authority on men's health issues. "You learn about your health, you learn about medicine, you learn about medical tests, and you become your own damn expert."
Here are a few hard and fast rules to help you take control of your health care. Launch Gallery >>
Illustration by Bryan Christie Design
Know your numbers.
Every checkup, ask your doctor to assess the following four numbers, and keep a personal log so you can track them yourself between visits.
• Blood pressure: A rise can be a sign of heart disease or another major health condition.
• Cholesterol: A rise in LDL can indicate heart disease or other heart or diet problems.
• Glucose level: Too high can indicate an insulin problem, prediabetes, or diabetes.
• Testosterone: Too low can indicate hormone dysfunction, diabetes, and other health problems.
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