I read an Aetna success story about a man named John who was two steps from a heart attack. In 2010, he took a Health Risk Assessment through his employer. His cholesterol and blood pressure were both off the charts. The news of his high cholesterol was particularly alarming, since he’d been on medication for it the previous two years. He couldn’t argue with the facts: he was forty-seven years old, 300 pounds, and had already had two knee surgeries because of his weight.
Armed with the results from the Health Risk Assessment, he knew he needed to change. He got a health coach who helped him create a game plan to lose some weight. Eventually, he lost 125 pounds. He’s even off cholesterol medicine now.
In short, he changed his life. John’s story is not unique.
There are many stories out there of people like John—people who see a health problem in their life and take steps to fix it. The percentage who actually follow through, though, is small—in my experience, it’s about 6 percent. You need something personal to motivate you. There has to be a catalyst that kicks you in the rear end. For John, he should’ve realized something was wrong when he had those two knee surgeries because of his weight. He knew he wasn’t feeling his best. It wasn’t until the report told him, “Be ready. You’re a walking heart attack,” that something clicked in him.
Don’t wait for a report to tell you you’re dying to take control of your health. Start your healthcare journey earlier than you think you should. It will be uncomfortable, and you’ll encounter a lot of questions. For example, you know you need health insurance, but how much should you get and why? What will it cost? What should it cover? When selecting a doctor or hospital, which ones are experts in the areas I need addressed? How much do they charge? What are their patient outcomes after treatment?
In order to answer those questions, you must know who you are first. You do this by taking a look at what your needs are, what your resources are, then going to the market and seeing who matches them. In this article, I’ll help you figure out your needs.
A Health Risk Assessment is the First Step
Knowing your needs as a healthcare consumer comes down to defining who you are, identifying your risks, and identifying your costs. You start with defining who you are because without that understanding, you won’t know what to buy. You could over-buy or under-buy insurance, and both of those are outcomes you want to avoid.
The first step to becoming familiar with who you are as a healthcare consumer is taking a Health Risk Assessment. What John did by taking that Health Risk Assessment was smart, even if he waited too long to do it. This assessment has a standard set of questions that helps develop your health profile. It assesses your health status, estimates your level of health risk, and provides feedback to guide your behaviors.
Information collected includes your demographic information (age and sex), lifestyle information (alcohol intake, exercise habits, whether or not you smoke, etc.), personal and family medical history, physiological data (weight, height, blood pressure, etc.), and your attitudes and willingness to change your behavior in order to improve your health.
The HRA analyzes your information and produces your health risk profile, which ranks your health in seven key health areas: heart, cancer, diabetes, obesity, nutrition, fitness, and mental and emotional health through color-coding, graphs, icons, and a number based scoring system that tells you if you are doing well, need to be cautious, or need to take immediate action. It recommends key ways to improve your scores and health.
How to Take a Health Risk Assessment
How can you get your own health risk profile? About 33 percent of employers offer these HRAs (Health Risk Assessments) through their employee health plan. For companies with over 200 employees, that number goes up to 51 percent. Many of them even have an app you can use to securely give and receive information for your health risk profile. Medicare and Medicaid both offer HRAs as well, as do some hospitals. Check with your local hospital to see if they have one.
Not too long ago, you had to do these HRAs on paper. Now, you can complete them on your phone through an app or on your computer through a website. It’s so easy that there’s no excuse not to do it, especially because much of the information required can be gathered at a basic physical (which is totally covered if you have an ACA plan.)
Be sure the information is taken within a six-month window, especially for test results. Why is this so important? Understanding your basic health status is the first step in identifying what your objectives need to be. Your objectives clarify and direct you to which tools and options are right for you. A health risk profile is a perfect way to discover what type of insurance and providers you should be pursuing.
Compiling Your Health Record
After completing an HRA, you need to compile all your medical history to complete your total health profile. At first, it will feel laborious. It’s like setting up Quicken, the personal budgeting software, for the first time, or transferring all of your files to a new computer—not a joyous experience, but you’ve got to do it! It entails gathering all of your health records, including documentation of conditions, biometrics, physicals, immunizations, surgeries, imaging, diagnostic test results, and medications.
It should include a thorough understanding of family conditions. Interview your parents about your family health history. If you discover a family history of a genetic condition, after consulting with your doctor, you want to weigh the pros and cons of genetic testing to determine if you are at risk of developing the condition. For example, certain types of tests may be useful in identifying your risk of certain types of colorectal cancer.
So, how do you access your information? With the exception of your family history, all of your data is moving to electronic data interchange (EDI) and storage, so you can call your hospital, doctor, or specialist and ask to download your records (lab work, diagnostic imaging, doctor’s notes). If you are unable to pursue the electronic route, paper records are just as effective. At the very least, keep a list of doctors or hospitals where you have received or are receiving care, what conditions you have been or are being treated for, and what medications you are taking and for what purpose.
Now You’re Ready for the Next Steps
These records complete your in-depth health profile. Having full access to your records, electronically or via hard copy, will help you communicate effectively with your doctor in an efficient manner. That way, they can more accurately assess your conditions and prescribe effective courses of treatment. These records also set you up to find a health insurance option that’s right for you and select a doctor who best fits your needs.