By: Brigadier General W. Bryan Gamble, M.D.
Deputy Director, TRICARE Management Activity
We all have many important and challenging choices to make about our health. Sometimes we make these choices without knowing all our options and the potential consequences. Understanding your options, as well as information about needed health care can be a challenge. By becoming an engaged patient you’ll be better equipped to make well-informed decisions about your health care.
Being an engaged patient goes hand-in-hand with improving your health literacy. Health literacy is your ability to obtain, communicate, process, and understand basic health information and services to make appropriate health decisions. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as many as 9 out of 10 adults have poor health literacy, resulting in difficulty using everyday health information.
These individuals are more likely to skip needed tests, mismanage chronic diseases and find themselves in the emergency room. They are also less likely to share important information with providers and use preventive services.
Health literacy can be especially challenging for members of the military as they return to civilian life and need to make health care decisions in an entirely new environment. While on active duty, service member’s health care options are clearly defined. Consequently, looking for and using civilian health care can be a frustrating adjustment after separation or retirement.
Ideally, health providers should communicate clearly and effectively with their patients. Engaged, health literate patients seek to become partners with their health providers, leading to better care. To be a better patient, proactively educate yourself about your health, health care needs and TRICARE benefits.
Here are some ways you can become an engaged patient and improve your health literacy:
- Do your research. Use trusted sources like www.cdc.gov for information.
- Write down your questions before visiting health care providers.
- Feel free to ask your health providers any question, including clarifying things you don’t understand.
- During your appointment, write down instructions from your doctor as well as answers to your questions as you may not remember their words precisely when you get home.
- Talk with your family about these topics.
As an engaged patient, you should also educate yourself about your TRICARE benefit. One of the simplest places to learn about TRICARE is at www.tricare.mil, where you can enter your profile to get benefit information just for you, find tips on healthy living and answers to frequently asked questions, as well as links to other essential information and services.