by Dr. Alan Lucas and Jim Lambert

Currently the people of the United States are involved in discussions regarding the future of our health care system. No matter what plan you support, it is obvious that changes need to be made to reduce the number of uninsured individuals in our country and to try to reduce the increasing cost of our health care system.

Compared with other developed countries around the world, the U.S. spends more dollars per individual than any other nation and yet our rates of disease and newborn deaths are high and our overall health continues to decline. It is time for everyone to think about what your

individual health care needs are and voice your opinion to your representatives.

Regardless of the outcome of the legislative process, there are some health care decisions that are more within the grasp of the public.

Americans can take more responsibility for their own individual health care on the front end.
Health reform alone will not control costs in the long run and providing everyone with health insurance options doesn’t in and of itself make any of us healthier.

The ability to save health care costs ultimately depends on the decisions we make in our personal lives that improve our lifestyles. Each of us can start by assessing our individual health status and begin to do things to improve our lifestyle to make us healthier and hopefully live longer.

Each of us should take a common sense approach in looking at our health care needs. We all know that it is best when we eat a healthy diet that is rich in fruits and vegetables, low in saturated fats and salt, and reduces sugar intake. It is easier said than done.

In Conway, we have excellent nutritional services available through Conway Regional Medical Center and the Conway Regional Fitness Center.

There is also a need to exercise to help keep your body healthy. It is difficult for some to believe that the harder you work your body, the stronger it gets. Local programs for exercise include walking, running, swimming, aerobics, dancing and also just plain work around the house. Exercise not only burns calories but improves heart health and in general makes us feel better and strengthens our ability to fight illness.

Your individual health plan should begin with establishing a relationship with your family physician. Your doctor can help you learn what health issues you might have and develop a plan to treat them.

Certain illnesses are inherited and cannot be escaped, but you can always try to minimize the effects of these conditions.

Heart disease, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, lung disease and even some eye diseases such as glaucoma can be treated and the earlier treatment is started the better the outcome. There are recommended schedules for checkups and screening tests based on age for men, women and children. (The charts with this article include some of these preventive screening services.)

Immunizations are the most cost effective form of preventive health care. Beginning in infancy, there are vaccines recommended to keep us healthy. Your child’s pediatrician, family physician or local health department may administer these vaccines.

Currently, we are hearing about the flu, including H1N1 (“swine flu”), and the predictions for a widespread epidemic this season. Influenza vaccine is a very effective way of minimizing your risk of getting the flu this year. Common sense measures to minimize the spread of the flu include washing your hands frequently, covering your mouth if you cough and staying home if you are ill so that you do not spread the disease. Current vaccination recommendations include flu vaccine for children as young as age 6 months and for all adults including the elderly. There is now a nasal flu vaccine for those afraid of injections.

In summary, we are in a time where how health care is delivered is changing rapidly including how it is financed. No one yet knows the impact on our hospitals, doctors or the patients who use these services.

In Conway, we are blessed with a great hospital, talented and caring physicians of all specialties and good access to health care services. But we can all do our part by improving our own health status, starting by scheduling a visit to our primary care physician, getting caught up on our immunizations, asking for any recommended preventive health care services and getting in shape physically and emotionally.

This will make us happier, healthier and may even reduce our health care cost.