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Knowledge, as they say, is power.

This is certainly true when it comes to health. It’s not only healthcare professionals who need to stay in the know. Patients, too, can and should arm themselves with knowledge as a way of becoming more proactive about their own care. An increasing number of people are doing so.

The advent of the internet has certainly helped this trend. The healthcare industry itself has also been shifting in ways that support and accommodate patient empowerment. Studies show that informed, engaged patients actually experience better health outcomes than those who don’t.

Follow these first steps to patient empowerment:

1.    Find the right doctor(s)

It’s important to work with doctors with whom you feel at ease. Whether you’re going in for your annual wellness exam or seeing a specialist, you need to be comfortable with your healthcare providers. You’re not there to make a new best friend, but you do want to be able to speak freely about your body and your health. Awkwardness and communication barriers get in the way of the business you’re there to conduct. Do your research about the doctors available to you, ask your friends for their suggestions and don’t be afraid to make a change if you’re not happy.

2.    Add your voice to the discussion

You are at the very center of your healthcare team. While it’s important to respect your doctors’ professional insights and defer to their expertise where appropriate, you should also feel free to weigh in with questions and comments when you have them. Ideally, you and your providers should work together toward a common goal: your good health.

3.    Use the Web wisely

The internet provides a virtually endless amount of health-related information. The trick is knowing how to look past the junk as you search for the substance. When conducting online health research, use very specific terms to drill down to what you really need. (For example, instead of “headache,” you could type “migraine, food triggers, female.”) Only click through to results that come from reputable sources. Keep an eye out for promotional content that guides you to specific products or businesses. Never pursue a serious course of treatment recommended online without consulting your doctor first.

4.    Treat appointments like business meetings

Come prepared whenever you visit your doctor. Bring a written, prioritized list of your questions and concerns. Take notes. You can even ask permission to make an audio recording of the appointment so you don’t miss anything that’s said. For topics that don’t get covered, ask how to get the information you still want. Perhaps you can follow up with a nurse or submit your questions via email to the doctor directly.

5.    Keep good records

Organize your medical records in a dedicated folder, binder or electronic file. Include any notes you take during appointments and copies of any articles you’ve found during your research. You should also always ask for duplicate copies of images (X-rays, MRIs, etc.) and any reports that physicians write regarding your case. That way, you can maintain a rich library of your own medical records.

An empowered patient tends to be a healthier patient. So get involved in your healthcare journey and become your own best advocate. It has the power to make you feel wonderful!