This World Health Day, we suggest that we Australians recognise the level of health care we receive, but also note that improvement in our individual self-care can always improve.
World Health Day this year focusses on universal health coverage, and Australia is considered to have one of the best and most advanced healthcare systems in the world. With good access to healthcare, combined with today’s new technologies and medical advancements, Australians are presented with better opportunities to live longer and healthier lives. This World Health Day on April 7, it’s important that we all take steps to ensure that we receive the safest and most effective healthcare available. Here are some practical and technology-inspired tips for Australian men and women to equip themselves with for better health.
1. Find a trusted GP
Arguably the most important thing you can do for your health is to find a GP you can trust and connect with. Your GP will be your first port of call for any family health concerns, both big and small, throughout your life. Many GPs will have special interests listed on their (or their clinic’s) website which can help narrow down whether they might be a good fit for you.
2. Do your own research
There is a wealth of information out there about medical conditions, alternative therapies and treatments. With the availability of endless information at your fingertips, it’s important you do your research, pay attention to where the information is coming from and make sure you ask your healthcare professionals the right questions.
3. Search for reliable resources
While “Dr Google” isn’t always to be trusted, there is a wide range of advice available online from many credible and professional sources. The Australian government website (www.healthdirect.gov.au) is a great place to start, with a free helpline staffed 24/7 by nurses. There is also an online symptom checker which can help you better understand your symptoms and decide what to do. Furthermore, websites like www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au and www.mydr.com.au offer up-to-date, doctor-approved information on emerging treatments, medical advancements and places to go to get help for your particular ailment. For women, Jean Hailes for Women’s Health is a wonderful resource which aims to empower women with the right information to improve their health and wellbeing. It contains a wealth of information on topics that affect women from birth to menopause and beyond. If your problem isn’t physical, it’s important to remember you can always consult websites like Beyond Blue, which also offers a 24/7 support line and information with managing and living with depression and anxiety.
4. An “app” a day keeps the doctor away…
…Well, not exactly, but there are certainly several apps out there that are all trying their very best to make you happier and keep you healthier. There are mindfulness apps like Headspace and Calm, to fitness and activity apps like MyFitnessPal and Runkeeper, along with a plethora of apps promoting better sleep, nutrition ideas and diet tips. Many, like Apple’s Health app, are already built in to your phone’s operating system. As with Dr Google, not all are worth your time and money, but with a little research, you should be able to find an app that works for you.
5. Keep on top of new technologies
While tried-and-tested treatments will always have their place in healthcare, it’s also good to be aware of new and innovative ways to manage health and prevent disease. Some of these technologies require no more than a smart phone: from an FDA-approved portable ECG (EKG) monitor, to advanced portable TENS machines, to award-winning water purifiers and glucose monitors. There is also an increasing market for wearable health-tracking devices that can monitor vital signs and other bodily changes, which can be beneficial to people at risk of many conditions like heart failure, breathing problems, high blood pressure and diabetes. These wearables not only notify you but they can also raise an alarm and let your caregivers and doctors know. These don’t just provide vital information in an emergency, they also allow patients with chronic health conditions to live a more independent life. It’s important to stress, however, that whilst some alternative therapies or technologies may be right for you, you should always consult a medical professional before undertaking any new therapies.
6. Understand the side effects, as well as the benefits, of medicines you might be taking
Medicine isn’t one-size-fits-all and not every medicine works the same for everybody. It’s important to always ask the right questions whenever you have been prescribed a new drug. Questions like what can I expect while taking it? What are the contraindications, precautions and drug interactions that I should be aware of? How long should I expect before it starts to work? Are there alternatives I can take? The mydr.com.au website contains a “Medicine Finder” section where you can read up-to-date information about any medicine you might be prescribed.
7. Keep a list of all the medicines you are taking and make sure your loved ones are aware of it
If you have any medical condition or are taking any long-term medicine, it’s a good idea to add this information on your phone. Apple phones allow you to input any vital medical information into a Medical ID via the health app which you can make accessible on the lock screen in case of an emergency. Android phones also have a similar capacity, but it may require downloading a specific app. Make sure your family and friends are aware of any important medicine you are taking and keep that list handy when talking to doctors and pharmacists. Make sure to include not only prescriptions but over-the-counter meds and complementary therapies like vitamins, supplements and herbs.
8. Always be doubly sure what procedure or operation you are having—confirm and then confirm again
If you’ve ever been admitted for what seems like a routine medical procedure and felt like you had to tell nine different people what you were in for, there’s a good reason. Often an entire medical team won’t get together until they’re about to operate and it’s critical that everybody is on the same page. If you’re having an operation on your left foot, make sure the nurse, the anaesthetist and the surgeon know it’s your left and not your right foot. Accidents are rare, but they do happen. If in doubt, confirm and then confirm again. And if you don’t feel comfortable with your physician, it’s okay to shop around.
9. Before you are discharged from hospital, make sure you are very clear on how to care for yourself at home
Even with the best intentions, doctors often overestimate just how much patients understand about their ongoing treatment once they have left hospital. Make sure you are clear on what medicines you should be taking, when your follow up appointments are, who you should contact if you have any complications, and what sort of physio or rehab plans there might be in place, should these be necessary. It’s also important to get a clear understanding of the average recovery time expected from your procedure and when you should be expected to resume work or other activities.
10. Understand privacy and access to your medical record
There has been a lot of discussion of late about the government’s My Health Record. Whether you have decided to opt-in or opt-out is entirely your choice (and if you have opted in, you can still cancel at any point) but it’s important to note that if you do have a My Health Record, you are still in control of it. You have the ability to control who has access to what documents, add access codes so that providers only see documents they need to, and you have the ability to remove documents that you deem sensitive or that you think are no longer relevant to your ongoing care. For more information, you can visit the privacy page of the My Health Record website.
This article is produced in partnership with Besins Healthcare as an educational service.
The most reliable sources of online information regarding women’s health are medical groups like The Australasian Menopause Society and Jean Hailes.