“Doctor Speak”: How to understand what your doctor is saying

“Mrs. Jones, your CBC, BMP and TSH are all negative. Your BMI and LFTs are elevated and I’m worried about NAFLD so you need to diet and exercise more. You’ll need to stop taking the statins and I’ll order a RUQ US.”

Say What?!?!?!

Do you ever feel like your doctor is speaking in some secret code that you don’t understand? You’re not alone. About 90% of American adults have problems in health literacy. Health literacy is the ability to understanding information about your health but it has nothing to do with your intelligence.

Medical terminology is essential in the healthcare world, but it is often heard as gibberish by patients. This may be because often doctors speak to their patients as if they are speaking to another physician. I have to admit, I pride myself in being a good communicator to my patients but there have been plenty of times when I’ve said something and the look on my patient’s face clearly shows that I just rambled out a bunch of acronyms and abbreviations and I need to start over.

Health literacy is actually a bigger problem than most realize. Studies show that patients with low health literacy are more likely to be hospitalized, use medication inappropriately and receive fewer recommended preventative measures. So, before you go to another doctor’s appointment, here are 5 tips to increasing your health literacy.

  1. Ask questions. In fact, write down questions before your appointment. Most people have a lot they want to ask their doctors but by the time you wait an hour in the waiting room and the doctor starts with her own agenda, the questions usually are forgotten. If you write them down, you are more apt to remember and have your questions answered.
  2. Bring a list of all medications. This includes supplements, vitamins and all over the counter meds. It’s important for you and your doctor to know who is prescribing what meds and to watch for any potential interactions.
  3. Don’t pretend. If you don’t understand what your doctor is saying, stop immediately and ask her to use simpler language. Often patients are afraid to admit that they don’t understand medical terminology. It is absolutely ok to ask for clarification.
  4. Use reflective listening. This means restating what the doctor is saying. This will ensure that instructions are clear. Simply say, “Let me see if I understand. You are saying……”
  5. Take another adult with you. This should be a trusted relative or friend in order to have an extra set of ears and maybe to take notes.

The doctor’s office can tend to be an intimidating place. But it’s important to know that YOU are in control of YOUR health and your doctor is there to provide a service for YOU. Do not leave your appointment feeling unsatisfied. It truly could be a matter of life and death.

Life Lessons From My Lab… GEORGE

GeorgeDog

“No, George! No!” I scream as I sprint across the street. The woman with the beautiful golden retriever has a panicked look on her face as my hundred pound yellow lab begins to mount (yes, MOUNT) her dog. “Oh my gosh. OH MY GOSH!” are the only words that escape me, followed by a slew of other pitiful phrases. “I’m so sorry. I am SO sorry! He never does this. I don’t know what got into him. I’m so embarrassed. I’m so sorry. He’s ‘fixed’…”

As I drag George by the collar back across the street and into our yard, I look over my shoulder to make eye contact with the lady whose dog was just shamelessly humped by my 8 year old lab. Some jumbled version of the following thoughts run through my head:

“I can’t believe I just reassured a total stranger that my dog is, ‘fixed’!”

“I’m so embarrassed, but maybe we can laugh about this?”

“I wonder if she will still be my friend?!”

“I would like to get to know more of our new neighbors!”

My hope for gaining a friendship out of this fiasco is squandered when she shoots me a look of total disgust. As she briskly walks away, the only communication she offers is the back of her head. My mind continues to race.

“What if she thinks I’m a horrible dog owner?”

“She probably thinks that I did not train George.”

“What if she tells all of our neighbors to stay away from us?”

“I hope she doesn’t hate me!”

This is when I catch myself and realize how out of control and irrational my thoughts are. I take a deep breath and start to ask myself some questions.

  1. What am I worried about?

We moved into our new house recently, and I’m worried about what the lady with the golden retriever and my neighbors think of me.

  1. Are there any other fears connected to this worry?

I fear not being liked.

I fear disapproval.

I fear rejection.

  1. Can I control what other people think?

Nope.

  1. If our neighbors dislike or disapprove of me, will I be okay?

Yes. I’ll survive.

  1. What does my anxiety and worry tell me about the object of my trust?

If I worry about others liking me, then my trust is in others. I’m basing my self-worth on my neighbors’ opinion of me and trusting that their opinion is ultimate.

  1. Is their opinion ultimate?

Nope.

I notice my anxiety has dropped significantly because I am telling myself the truth. About this time, George plants a huge, slobbery kiss on my forearm to get my attention. His goofy grin makes me laugh. I am reminded to not take myself too seriously. I lean down to give him a good scratch behind the ear and walk through our front door. George follows behind, tail wagging and I think to myself, “It’s going to be a good day.”

Keeping Your Young Football Player Healthy through the Fall and Winter Months…

Autumn…oh how we have missed thee! In Texas we only get to enjoy you for such a short time that we will wear our winter boots, sweaters, and jackets on days that Chicago and New York would consider laughable. We will line up at Starbucks for a pumpkin spice latte if the weatherman even whispers we may wake up to weather under 70 degrees. It is in these days that we lay off the water a bit because we don’t need it as much, right? WRONG it is also the days of good ol’ Texas football and our boys need to stay hydrated and healthy even through these months.

Did you know that heat stroke is one of the leading causes of death in athletes, yet it is largely preventable? Many of these strokes happen after the intense heat of summer in Texas as we do not have the luxury of ice cold fall days. We may wake up to 40 degree weather and by the time after-school practice starts we could be back in the 80’s. It is vital that our little athletes keep their bodies hydrated despite a slight change in the weather.

When an athlete exercises, the body temperature is elevated and the body sweats to cool down. Body fluids and valuable minerals (electrolytes) are lost, blood volume drops, and the heart works harder and harder to maintain blood pressure. More fluid is pulled from the tissues to make up the difference creating a dangerous condition. If fluids and electrolytes are not replaced, dehydration, and the risk of heat illness and death increase.

The choice of fluids depends on the activity and intensity. Water is very effective for activity bouts lasting less than one hour. Activities lasting more than one hour with multiple repetitive bouts in the same day require fluids containing carbohydrates, sodium, and potassium, which are standard formulations for commercial sport drinks. Remember that sport drinks are not health beverages, so improper consumption can lead to weight gain. But sports drinks are designed to replace fluids and nutrients lost during extended activity in the heat. Electrolyte replacement may take longer due to metabolic processes. Proper planning, fluid replacement, and education can not only make athletic participation less worrisome for parents but also more enjoyable for the athlete.

Here are a few tips to keep your kids healthy through the fall and winter season.

  1. Insist that they keep up the same water intake. If your young athlete takes water in a cooler to school daily make sure he/she does not change their routine. There is no need for it and this will encourage them to keep up this healthy habit as an adult.
  2. Encourage them to take water breaks often during practice.
  3. Try some new options – today you can get electrolyte infused water as well as coconut water at the grocery store, both are good sources for hydration and can add a little flavor as well.
  4. Go over heat stroke information with your athlete. Make sure they understand when to call for help. If they feel like their body temperature has gone up past 105 degrees or experience any of the below teach them to seek help immediately.
  • Throbbing headache
  • Dizziness and light-headedness
  • Lack of sweating despite the heat
  • Red, hot, and dry skin
  • Muscle weakness or cramps
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Rapid heartbeat, which may be either strong or weak
  • Rapid, shallow breathing
  • Behavioral changes such as confusion, disorientation, or staggering
  • Seizures
  • Unconsciousness

*Heritage’s original post on the dangers of heat stroke can be found here.

Disciplining Your Child: The importance of presenting a united front

As a parent, how many times have you heard the phrase “But Mom/Dad said I could” after telling your child “no”? Adolescents and teens alike are suspiciously well-adept at the art of manipulation. No, that doesn’t mean that your child is some kind of sociopath- it’s what they are supposed to do!

Children develop healthy identities and values by pushing the limits; this enables them to identify and distinguish between right and wrong. That being said, witnessing your child test the waters can be infuriating. Not to mention the sinking feeling of wondering if your spouse is even on the same planet as you are when it comes to discipline. Presenting a united front is one of the most important lessons to learn when disciplining your child, especially when they are young.

Because little ones are typically black-and-white thinkers, children around the age of six and under are easily confused when only one parent enforces the rules or if consequences differ between each parent. Six year olds do not do well with mixed messages! This black-and-white thinking leads them to the conclusion that one parent is “right/good” and the other is “wrong/bad”. In a home where children constantly hear the phrase “just wait until your father gets home”, who do you think the bad guy is? What about a home where Dad is only about playtime and Mom is the only one to enforce rules or consequences? No parent wishes their child to favor one parent over the other, but it’s only natural for a little one to pick playtime parent over time-out parent. Think about it- if a two year old can figure out that screaming in public can get her that giant cookie, then you can bet a six year old knows which parent will be more likely to give her what she wants, when she wants it. Fortunately for me, my parents learned this lesson pretty quickly… my attempts at pitting my parents against one another in order to get what I wanted worked for about a week before they put an end to it.

As for older children, the importance of being a team in the discipline arena becomes less about presenting a united front and more about modeling appropriate ways to handle disagreements. Imagine this scenario:

Teenaged daughter: “Mom can I go to the party at Sarah’s tonight?”

Mom: “Sure honey.”

Dad (simultaneously with mom): “No way.”

What typically happens next? Mom and Dad erupt at each other in front of the daughter? Daughter begins frantically negotiating? Mom and daughter team up against Dad? If this all sounds familiar, here’s what I have to say: Do NOT miss this opportunity! This is your chance to show your child that you two are a team- teammates may disagree but they strive to work together for the win.

By presenting a united front when it comes to discipline, you’re one step closer to ensuring that your child will not only grow up knowing that Mom and Dad can’t be manipulated, but also being witness to healthy communication habits. The last thing the two of you need is a six year old who’s scared of the one parent who enforces consequences or a teenager who knows (or thinks he knows) how to work the system.