When we’re feeling healthy, it’s easy to put off or avoid medical tests that screen for disease. But postponing or skipping routine screenings and medical exams can have serious consequences for our health. On a visit to The Rachael Ray Show, we had three viewers take three common screening medical tests: A cholesterol blood test to look for a treatable cause of heart disease; a mammogram exam to screen for signs of breast cancer; and a treadmill stress test to detect heart disease.
Why did we pick these three tests? They work well because they nicely illustrate the three types of medical tests you may receive:
- A routine test you get at every checkup (cholesterol)
- A regularly scheduled screening/preventive test you get less frequently, but need to keep on top of if you’re in the population that it’s recommended for (mammogram)
- A secondary test that you probably won’t receive unless you’ve already had another test that indicates you should get it (treadmill stress test)
If you’re spending the time and effort to visit the doctor and have tests such as these done, you want to get a return on that investment in your health. That’s why getting medical screenings and exams is just a first step, not the last. You also need to:
1. Take action based on the test results. If your results suggest a health problem or are inconclusive, you need to discuss them with your doctor. You should find out what they might mean to you and the actions you should take. If the results are normal, that may be good news. However, you’ll still need to talk with your doctors to make sure you have a health plan in place that will keep your test results – and your health – in good shape.
2. Monitor your health between doctor’s visits. There are a number of new technologies available that allow you to track your own health, from home blood pressure and blood sugar testing devices to apps and gadgets that can help you track your calories or the number of steps you take in a day. It’s a wonderful new world of opportunities to be more informed about your health, take charge of your behaviors, and change them if you want or need to. That said, don’t forget to let your doctor know what you’re doing and be sure to discuss any abnormal readings or changes.
3. Work with your healthcare team. The most important thing is for you, the patient and healthcare consumer, to be engaged. You have a healthcare team and the central player is YOU. Ask your doctor or nurse what tests you’re getting and what they mean, follow up and make sure you get the results, and then ask all the questions you need to ask.
- 1. Cavanaugh BM. Nurse’s Manual of Laboratory and Diagnostic Tests. Philadelphia, PA: F.A. Davis Company; 2003.
- 2. National Institute on Aging. Talking with your doctor: A guide for older people. Accessed January 9, 2013.
- 3. Wilde MH and Garvin S. A concept analysis of self-monitoring. J Adv Nurs. 2007; 57(3): 339-350. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2648.2006.04089.x