I'm not a doctor.
I don't play one on TV.
What I am, though, is a person who has been fortunate enough to sit through many meetings on a variety of health topics - all featuring prominent Staten Island physicians.
From heart disease to lung cancer to breast cancer, I have heard the experts discuss one of the most difficult conundrums vis-à-vis the health of Staten Islanders. Relatively speaking we are an affluent borough with a high percentage covered by health insurance, yet we have some pretty bad health markers. Usually, more affluent communities have better numbers than less affluent communities. Staten Island is an exception to this rule. I won’t spend time discussing why this is the case, I’ll leave the technical stuff to my Health and Wellness Director, Dr. Ginny Mantello, and others actively engaged in solving this issue.
In sitting through these meetings, though, some common themes have emerged no matter what the topic of discussion is. I will call them “five tips I have gleaned from Staten Island physicians."
As I said earlier, I’m not a doctor and I don’t pretend to be one, but I have heard some really smart doctors engaged in important work share these tips in a variety of ways. I hope they can be helpful to you.
- Know your numbers and risk factors. For example, with respect to heart disease the experts tell us we should know our cholesterol and blood pressure, among other things. We already know if we are not eating right, not exercising enough and smoking. Knowing our numbers, however, gives us an awareness of potential health challenges and the kinds of risk we are facing because of lifestyle factors, genetic factors, or something else. When we know we are at risk for something we can take steps to make changes to alleviate that risk.
- Be an active participant in your own health care. This means you should read and learn as much as you can. Ask your doctor questions. Taking care of your own health is your most important thing you can do for yourself and for your family. Treat it with the importance it deserves. Don’t be passive; instead be an active and engaged participant in your own health care and in all important decisions.
- Make the lifestyle changes that are under your control. We cannot control the genes we were born with, but we can control many lifestyle factors that negatively affect our health. Just last week a new study was released showing that obesity was associated with eleven different kinds of cancers.
- Be persistent. Health care has changed during the last decade and it continues to change. Physicians are busy, and it is frustrating sometimes when we have to wait long to get an appointment or wait a while in the waiting room. Don’t let the realities of health care in the 21st Century beat you down or prevent you from getting the care you need and deserve.
- Talk with your doctor, always, about the best course of action. Sometimes, federal agencies with long names and acronyms make pronouncements that upend conventional thinking, particularly on the issue of who should be screened for certain diseases and how often. This happened most infamously with the recommendations for breast cancer screenings that went against conventional wisdom and practice. Don’t hear some new recommendation on the news and use that as an excuse to not have a conversation with your doctor. In the case of breast cancer screenings, the local experts disagree with the federal government and recommend a broader range of women get screened with screening mammograms.