Self-management is what people do every day: they decide what to eat, whether to exercise, if and when they will monitor their health or take medications. In fact, everyone self-manages, the question is whether or not people make decisions that improve their health by changing their behaviors and habits, which will improve or worsen their health now and in the future. People who are motivated to make daily decisions and choose actions favoring healthy behaviors are sometimes called “good self-managers.”
Why is self-management so important? What is different?
The health of a person or patient relies heavily on that person. Self-management is inevitable because a person only sees their health care provider (physician) for one check-up a year – about 15 minute visit and the rest of the time they are “self-managing” their own health and illnesses. The physician’s role in self-management is to be a partner with the patient. The physician should be the expert about diseases, and the patient is the expert in their own life and how they live. However, they must both communicate freely to each other and in ways that both understand. If the physician doesn’t know the patient can’t afford or find their inhaler medication – then they can’t help them. Honesty goes a long way in this process.
What is self-management support?
Self-management support is what physicians and other health caregivers do to help and encourage patients to become good self-managers. In simplistic terms, it is providing the education and resources for patients’ to improve their skills and confidence in managing their health problems. This means individuals (patients) should be seeing their physician each year for a regular “well” check-up, setting goals on improving their health, and working with their physicians on solving problems – such as getting the medications they need as well as education and seeing a specialist when needed. Individual patients should be getting the information they need and understand – whether the physician or other health provider uses teach back methods – especially in making sure the patient knows how to use their inhaler properly, providing low-literacy printed information – such as an easy to read Asthma Action Plan for the family, or web-based training, etc.
How can You improve self-management?
Start by talking to your doctor today. Be honest about your health issues – if they don’t know its broken, how can they fix it? Of course, physicians are not miracle workers and can be limited by where they are located for treatment and specialists for specific disease care, however, you as a patient need to voice concern and ask questions. If you have trouble speaking with your physician, taking notes, and remmbering everything a doctor tells you – you as a patient should consider having a family member or close friend go to doctor appointments with you – to take notes for you and to be a support person. We call these individuals “health advocates” because they are your “cheerleaders” and support you.
We know that life is a balancing act – but there are ways to make it easier! Work with your physician(s), as they should be WORKING for you. Remember you need to do your part too. Be honest – if you stopped taking a prescribed medication due to them making you feel worse, then tell you doctor and also talk to the pharmacist. They should be able to offer suggestions on a different type of medication that may work better for you. Thankfully, there are new options being made every day.
Medicine and the management of disease are many times not an EXACT science. Sometimes you may have to try a few different medications or treatment to get a good or better result because the treatment that worked for one person may not work for another.
The West Virginia Asthma Education and Prevention Program works with physicians and other health care providers (caregivers) in the hope of improving Patient Self-Management. Many good resources and educational material and links can be found on our website at www.wvasthma.org.