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August 22, 2002


Emory Physician Co-Authors New Book Encouraging Patients To Become Partners With Their Doctors

You've just returned from a trip to Mexico with a case of 'traveler's diarrhea' and other questionable symptoms. How did this happen? You were careful to microwave the water you drank and even the water you used to brush your teeth. Feeling nauseous, you try and make a same-day appointment with your doctor, but you can't be seen until next Thursday. You've never liked that office anyway. They can't seem to decide if you really have high blood pressure and your physician never fully explains any diagnosis or treatment. You take your frustration to the bookstore to look for a consumer health guide to find some answers.

A new book co-authored by Emory University physician Neil Shulman, M.D. may be just what this doctor ordered. Dr. Shulman is trying to roll back a tide of "medical illiteracy" with his latest book, Your Body, Your Health (Prometheus Books, Amherst), to be released in September 2002.

Along with local Atlanta physician and co-author Rowena Sobczyk, M.D., Dr. Shulman advises consumers on how to get the most out of a doctor's visit by managing their own health and taking a proactive stance to help doctors give them the best possible care.

"We are a nation of medical illiterates," Dr. Shulman says. "Hopefully this book is a stepping stone toward giving consumers and educators the basics of medical literacy."

Dr. Shulman believes the country's health care system could be significantly improved if medical courses weren't just offered to those pursuing degrees in the health care field. While heart disease, diabetes and obesity are at epidemic levels in the Unites States, the basic preventive measures relating to nutrition are given a back seat in school curriculum, he says.

"Reading, writing, and arithmetic are important, however learning the basics of preventive health, medical screening, common diseases, and the logical steps a doctor uses when evaluating you is just as important. If you're not alive, reading, writing and arithmetic won't do you much good."

Drs. Shulman and Sobczyk also encourage consumers to become partners with their doctors. Dr. Sobczyk advises patients to have the same relationship with their doctors that they have with their car mechanics.

"When you go to the doctor, you're servicing your body," Dr. Sobczyk says. "If they tell you they need to do certain work on your car, you ask why. You ask if there are other options and if you're skeptical about their diagnosis, you take your car someplace else. In the same way, people need to be proactive with their health. They need to talk to their doctors instead of going in and taking blind advice. People need to know more about any treatment that their doctor prescribes and whether they have any other options. After all, it's your health and you only have one body."

Dr. Shulman agrees.

"I don't think that Americans should just present their body to their doctor and say ‘fix me.' You are with your body all the time," Dr. Shulman says. "You know your body better than anybody else. If you were medically literate and if you understood the basics of how to communicate with your doctor, then you would be able to partner with your doctor in helping him or her figure out what the problem is and how best to treat you."

The user-friendly guide also includes illustrations, a guide to health sources on the Internet, and a glossary of medical terms, tests and procedures.

Your Body, Your Health informs you that just because you nuked your water in Mexico doesn't mean it was safe. Microwaves don't kill bacteria. It takes sustained high temperatures to kill germs (p.145). And even though your doctor's office may not like it, you're going to try walking in without an appointment. If you arrive 30-40 minutes before it closes for lunch, you may get squeezed in before the lunch break. If not, you'll most likely be seen in the early afternoon session. No office likes to have an obviously ill patient sitting for hours in the waiting room (p.27). But this time you'll make sure your arm is horizontal and supported at mid-chest level when they check your blood pressure. If the cuff placed on your arm is below the level of your heart when your blood pressure is measured, it can result in erroneously high pressures (p.31).

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