Intelligent health consumers have the following characteristics:
1. They seek reliable sources of information. They are appropriately skeptical about advertising claims, statements made by talk-show guests, and “breakthroughs” reported in the news media. New information, even when accurate, may be difficult to place in perspective without expert guidance.
2. They maintain a healthy lifestyle. This reduces the odds of becoming seriously ill and lowers the cost of health care. Prudent consumers avoid tobacco products, eat a balanced diet, exercise appropriately, maintain a reasonable weight, use alcohol moderately or not at all, and take appropriate safety precautions (such as wearing a seat belt when driving).
3. They select practitioners with great care. It has been said that primary-care physicians typically know a little about a lot and specialists typically know a lot about a little. The majority of people would do best to begin with a generalist and consult a specialist if a problem needs more complex management.
4. They undergo appropriate screening tests and, when illness strikes, use self-care and professional care as needed. Excellent guidebooks are available to help decide when professional care is needed.
5. They communicate effectively. They present their problems in an organized way, ask appropriate questions, and tactfully assert themselves when necessary.
6. When a health problem arises, they take an active role in its management. This entails understanding the nature of the problem and how to do their part in dealing with it. People with chronic illnesses, such as diabetes or high blood pressure, should strive to become “experts” in their own care and use their physicians as “consultants.”
7. They understand the logic of science and why scientific testing is needed to test and to determine which theories and practices are valid.
8. They are wary of treatments that lack scientific support and a plausible rationale. Most treatments described as “alternative” fit this description.
9. They are familiar with the economic aspects of health care. They obtain appropriate insurance coverage, inquire in advance about professional fees, and shop comparatively for medications and other products.
10. They report frauds, quackery, and other wrongdoing to appropriate agencies and law enforcement officials. Consumer vigilance is an essential ingredient of a healthy society.
Each of these principles is thoroughly discussed in the 6th edition of Consumer Health: A Guide to Intelligent Decisions.