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.

Complementary and alternative medicine

Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) means practices not typically found in conventional medicine and includes things such as herbs and dietary supplements, meditation, massage, and acupuncture. Since it turns out that most users of CAM use it right along with conventional medicine — such as using meditation along with a blood pressure pill to help control high blood pressure — some people now prefer the term "complementary medicine" to reflect the fact that many of these treatments work with conventional care.

As research into the safety and efficacy of many of these CAM therapies has grown, a newer term — "integrative medicine" — is becoming the preferred term. Integrative medicine is defined as the integration of evidence-based CAM therapies combined with conventional care. You're using integrative medicine when you add a complementary treatment to an existing conventional treatment.

Although CAM practices are becoming more common, not all have been rigorously tested for safety and effectiveness. So before you try something new, take time to investigate the risks and benefits. Your doctor can be a good resource — and needs to know about any CAM you're considering.

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.

Apr. 08, 2014