The best way to survive disease is to prevent it before it starts, but many people find it daunting to take on this responsibility. While just being alive means everyone has an inherent risk of getting sick, seven out of 10 deaths are due to largely preventable chronic diseases like heart disease and diabetes.
This startling realization helps to shed light on the importance of health education. People with close provider relationships who actively work to prevent chronic disease tend to fare better than those who choose to play disease roulette. NPs are keenly aware of this and make health education and counseling part of their core services.
Later this month we will celebrate National Health Education Week, a time for providers and patients to reflect on the virtues of being informed about good health. Much of this falls into the realm of primary care and underscores why it’s important to pick the right primary care provider (PCP) in the first place. This means your provider helps you not just treat problems, but stay well in the first place.
In the spirit of promoting better health through widespread education, here are three conversations everyone should have with their PCP:
A family history deep-dive. Most providers ask about this, but connecting the dots and tracing risk can be too much for a single one-off appointment. Choose a provider who takes the time to find out that your aunt has diabetes or your father has melanoma and who focuses on healthy eating, exercise and sun protection like it’s a matter of life and death. Teaching patients to offset their risks with smart lifestyle choices can make all the difference.
Real talk about bad habits. No one likes to talk about drinking too much, hating to exercise, smoking or binge eating, but your provider can help you address your bad habits in a constructive way. Sometimes knowing that 85 percent of people with diabetes are overweight, or that most people who have a heart attack also have high blood pressure—and many don’t have any idea they have it—can motivate patients to make changes. Worrying about being judged can cause you to miss out on valuable advice, so find a provider you can talk to and lay it all on the line.
An honest discussion about your fears. Most lumps are not breast cancer, and family history is a much smaller risk than most people think. Patients spend a lot of time worrying about their health, but the things that keep them up at night aren’t necessarily worth the anguish. Better health education helps people focus on the things they can control—like what they eat, how much they exercise, the amount of sleep they get and their stress levels—which also happen to play the biggest role in developing many chronic conditions.
The best health outcomes don’t necessarily start with the best genes. Those who embrace the “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” approach to health tend to live longer and healthier, and that starts with good health education. Find a provider who will take the time to talk to you about the things you can do stay healthy, and push them to explain why doing those things will make a difference. Being healthy starts with being informed, and your provider should be equal parts teacher and caregiver.