You’ve just returned from a trip to Mexico with a case
of “Montezuma’s Revenge,” accompanied by other
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; 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 coauthored by Emory physician Neil Shulman may be just
what this doctor ordered. Shulman is trying to roll back a tide
of “medical illiteracy” with his latest book, Your
Body, Your Health (Prometheus Books, Amherst), released this
Along with Atlanta physician and coauthor Rowena Sobczyk, 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,” Shulman said.
“Hope-fully this book is a stepping-stone toward giving consumers
and educators the basics of medical literacy.”
Shulman believes the country’s health care system could be
significantly improved if medical courses weren’t offered
only to those pursuing degrees in the health care field. While heart
disease, diabetes and obesity are at epidemic levels in the United
States, the basic preventive measures relating to nutrition are
given a backseat in school curricula, he said.
“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,” Shulman said. “If you’re not alive,
reading, writing and arithmetic won’t do you much good.”
Shulman and Sobczyk also encourage consumers to become partners
with their doctors. 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,”
Sobczyk said. “If [mechanics] 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,”
she continued. “They need to talk to their doctors instead
of going in and taking blind advice. People need to know more about
any treatment their doctor prescribes and whether they have any
other options. After all, it’s your health—and you only
have one body.”
Shulman agreed. “I don’t think Americans should just
present their body to their doctor and say, ‘Fix me,’”
he said. “You are with your body all the time; you know it
better than anybody else. If you were medically literate and 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 care resources on the Internet and a glossary of medical
terms, tests and procedures.