Consumer health basics

Can you remember how you got consumer health information before the internet? Your doctor was probably your only credible source, and that meant going in for an appointment.

Today the internet is a rich and easily accessible source of information about consumer health — making it possible to be more informed about your health care options.

Even so, navigating the complex health care system is no easy task. To be a savvy health care consumer, you have to ask questions and take charge of your health.

Fortunately, more and more tools are available to help you make smart choices. Take advantage of these resources and take charge of your health care.

Integrative medicine

Integrative medicine encompasses a number of complementary therapies and practices, such as meditation, massage, acupuncture, and the use of herbs and dietary supplements.

These integrative practices — sometimes called complementary and alternative medicine — may help people with cancer, persistent pain, chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia and many other conditions.

While many complementary therapies have been studied, many more have not. In some cases, evidence about safety or efficacy of a particular therapy may be conflicting. Before you try something new, take time to research the risks and benefits.

Your doctor can be a good resource — and needs to be your partner to help ensure you're making informed decisions about complementary practices.

Medications

Medications can be lifesavers, but they need to be used properly. All medications carry some risk, especially if they're used incorrectly.

To get the most out of your medications and to keep yourself safe, you need to know why a medication is being prescribed for you, how you're supposed to take it and what the side effects might be.

You also need to be smart when using over-the-counter medications, such as pain relievers and cough and cold medicines. Read the label and follow directions with over-the-counter medications just as you would with prescription ones.

Finally make sure your doctor knows about all of the medications you take, including over-the-counter medications and any herbs or supplements. That way your doctor can check for possible interactions among your medications.

Nov. 04, 2016