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Philly-Area Doctors Tell Us Common Health Challenges They See in Patients–and How to Beat Them

It’s not always easy to mind your health on a day-to-day basis. Despite our best intentions, life gets in the way, and it becomes easy to fall off from our health goals (when we actually take the time to set them). Even so, you don’t have to be superhuman to have super health. If you foster the right habits, some small, everyday tweaks to your lifestyle can have a big impact down the road, helping you avoid major health consequences and crises–without giving up the aspects of your life that you love.

That’s why we spoke to the primary care practitioners at Jefferson’s new Personalized Primary Care about the common, everyday health struggles that they see patients facing in Greater Philadelphia. Jefferson Personalized Primary Care is an innovative approach to primary care, which offers extended and expedited appointments that offer a new level of access to your physician–the kind of program that encourages patients to build a real working relationship focused on their health with their physician. As a result, these doctors had a plethora of helpful health tips that can be seamlessly integrated into your life–and potentially make that life healthier and happier. Here’s what you can do today to improve your health for the long haul.

How to Have Better Conversations with Your Doctor

It’s not always easy to speak freely with your doctor about all of your health conditions. But one key aspect of Personalized Primary Care is that it’s designed to help patients and physicians become partners in their health through better conversations.

“I try to be a co-pilot or partner. If the physician tries to dictate things, it’s never good for the physician or patient,” says Dr. Carlton Silver.

Developing that kind of relationship with your doctor can be as simple as a matter of repeated exposure–go to your check ups and understand that it’s ok to have a full, even casual conversation with your doctor. A good physician will appreciate the help in warding off any future concerns down the road, and the rapport you establish will further help them work with you to uncover any potential issues.

“If you set aside enough time like we do in Jefferson Personalized Primary Care you have enough time to really talk through the issues–you can even look up resources with the patient,” says Dr. Jeremy Close.

How to Create a Better Health Support System

Through an established relationship with the patient, the physician can also develop better relationships with specialists that patient works with, and help point them to specialists that work best for them personally.

“This style of practice allows us to serve as not only a point of contact for patients, but for the people we refer them to,” says Dr. Kathryn Trayes. “So I can have a conversation with the specialist before I send the patient to them, or I can have that specialist call me afterwards.”

The physician can even extend the benefits of that relationship to family members of the patient, from making connections to specialists for health conditions of family members, to comforting family in regard to the patients’ health conditions.

How to Choose, and Stick to, Health Goals

A great way to make the biggest impact on your health is to get your doctor involved in your health goals. From the outset of your relationship, a good physician will ask to work with you on your goals should you have any, and help you develop them if you don’t. That conversation should be based on health issues that the physician observes and the personal needs of the patient.

“In my initial conversation with a patient, we find out where our mutual strengths are, and we figure out what it is they want to accomplish,” Dr. Silver says. “My goal is to facilitate helping them be as well as they can be, for as long as they can be.”

Perhaps the most important way to meet a goal, once it’s set, is to schedule regular status check ins. Your doctor can serve that role as well.

“Part of our ability in this practice is to be available for things like more simple check ins on how a patient is progressing toward their health goal, either through in-person or telemedicine conversations,” Dr. Close says. Dr. Trayes also notes that she makes herself available for simple digital messaging, so small questions and responses can happen quickly.

How to Get More Sleep

We all know sleep is important for our health, but it’s not always easy to get enough of it. Dr. Silver has helped a lot of his patients overcome that challenge.

One of his go-to tips? Worrying at night about the fact that you’re not getting enough sleep can be one of the main reasons, ironically, that you end up not getting enough sleep, so he recommends putting it out of your mind.

“People start doing the math in their head. So turn the clock around, so that you’re not calculating how much time you have left before you have to get up,” Dr. Silver says. Overthinking can often be the source of the problem in other ways, so he also recommends pulling out a piece of paper, and writing down what you need to do tomorrow. In other words, put your stressors down on paper, to get them out of your head.

One other note: Many of us have heard the suggestion that you shouldn’t watch TV in bed to keep your mind clear and ready for sleep. But Dr. Silver realizes that the ubiquity of digital screens nowadays makes that unrealistic. However, he still thinks you can draw a line.

“Once you get under your covers, you want your body and mind to be associating that with sleep,” he says. “You can watch TV or be on your phone while on top of the covers in the bedroom, but under the covers it’s time for sleep.”

How to Stay Fit

Following your diet and exercise plan is one of the most fundamental factors in determining your health and warding off or limiting chronic conditions. It’s also one of the factors that many people have the biggest challenge with. Dr. Close often skips the gym recommendation–it’s more about building in enough time in your schedule.

“I rarely recommend joining a gym because most people just pay for the membership and then don’t go. Instead, if they can be strict about blocking off time in their schedule, they’ll feel compelled to do it because of the time set off for it,” Dr. Close says.

For diet and exercise, Dr. Trayes notes that it’s useful to get friends and family involved.

“In this busy world, it can be hard to find the time to cook the right foods or get the exercise you need. But if you also use that time to socialize together, then it doesn’t feel like a chore,” Dr. Trayes says.

Eating in a way that helps you feel full for longer also makes diet goals more obtainable–she recommends about 15 percent carbs, 60 percent plants and vegetables, and 25 percent protein in each meal or snack.

“That combination is going to burn longer, and you’ll feel better,” Dr. Trayes says.

How to Account for Your Genetics

As contemporary medicine develops a better and better understanding of the role that genetics play in our health, it’s become more important to integrate that knowledge into everyday health care and preventative medicine. And that kind of approach is something you should look for in your primary care physician.

“From a genetic standpoint, it starts with gathering that patient’s family history, and it’s also staying up to date with the latest genetic screening protocols,” Dr. Silver says. If those initial measures point to a potential condition, your physician should be able to point you to a specialist in genetics.

“If you do have a family history, we’ll have the conversation with you about the kinds of behavior changes and screenings you need to make long before you reach the age where you’re most at risk,” Dr. Close says. “But we also have resources in Personalized Primary Care where we can point you to genetic counseling.”

Dr. Close also points out that the trust that’s built through Jefferson Personalized Primary Care allows physicians to tell patients that they should be a little selfish with their health–that it isn’t wrong to take the time necessary to get their health where it should be, so that they’re prepared for the long term.

“You just have to be that little voice of reason for the patient,” Dr. Close says. “And engage them in ways that help them make small changes to make their health a little better, and make them feel better too.”