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Five smart ways my power patients approach their health.

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Many of my patients would be at home among the Power 100: They’re incredibly successful, ambitious and driven to excel in every area of their lives. As a physician, I am consistently impressed by the approach they take to their health. Unlike the average patient, my “power patients” are proactive about anything health related. They don’t just want to survive, they want to thrive. Their goal is always to reach new levels of health, even as they age. 

Here are several of the steps that I see my power patients take:

1. They set ambitious goals based on data.

My best patients work closely with me to identify the key ways their health could improve—the ways they could physically perform better—and we identify the data points that we want to impact. One recent patient wanted to increase his mental sharpness. In looking at his lifestyle, I noticed his sleeping habits were erratic. Together, we built a strategy to get him going to sleep and waking up at the same time each day. Part of our plan included using an app that tracked the quality of his sleep and found his optimal waking time. For someone who often works across time zones, this was a big step, but within three weeks he noticed that he needed less coffee and felt sharp throughout the day, not just in the morning.  

Action: Work with your doctor to identify your biggest health risks or issues, then identify the data points associated with them. Together, set goals for those data points. 

 “My best patients know they need the accountability and expertise that comes from working with others.”

 2. They ensure they have the resources to achieve their goals. 

This is the most important difference between my power patients and my average patients. My power patients focus on setting themselves up for success with adequate resources. This is especially important for exercise and eating well. My power patients use trainers, get their assistants to block time on their calendars for exercise and work with chefs so that they have more help in achieving their goals. Working with a private chef and trainer each day, one of my patients successfully set up a routine that lowered his cholesterol by 30 points. Though I see many patients try to make health changes on their own, my best patients know they need the accountability and expertise that comes from working with others on their goals. This is the step that truly enables their success.

Action: Nothing is more powerful than feeling and seeing results, so give yourself all the help you need before taking the training wheels off. 

Ralf Hiemisch/Getty Images

3. They manage their goals incrementally.

My power patients stay attuned to the smallest changes in their health and they constantly pivot their approach. One patient who was trying to manage his blood pressure got into the habit of sending me his daily blood pressure reading via an iPhone blood pressure monitor, along with his daily food intake from another app. This data meant that we could quickly determine exactly what food had caused a blood-pressure increase or decrease (the food diary app tracked sodium and other nutritional information). This constant incremental management created an ideal diet for him over time. Plus, seeing the data himself was powerfully motivating. Rather than just being told by me not to eat high-salt foods, he could see his blood pressure rise when he did, and thus he took ownership of creating new habits. This is the sort of attention to detail that many patients don’t apply to their own health, though when they do, it always has positive effects.

Action: Don’t wait to check your progress. Track it closely, and work with your doctor to constantly refine and shift
your approach.

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4. They embrace new therapies and treatments.

I learn just as much from my power patients as they learn from me. They’re often the first to tell me about new therapies and treatments they’ve heard about, and I often work with them to vet these treatments before using them. My power patients were the first to request genome sequencing, stem cell therapy, immunotherapy for cancer and stereotactic neurosurgery for severe tremors. One patient recently introduced me to microbiome testing. Intrigued by its potential, my team and I researched it, and I shared the results with my patient. We decided that it was a therapy to keep an eye on but not to adopt immediately. This focus on the cutting edge means that my power patients are always getting the best possible care.

Action: There are new advances every day in every area of health. Stay abreast of them, or work with a doctor who does. 

5. They have a rapid-response team for acute problems.

All my power patients also make sure they have doctors who are expert in helping them navigate new issues, not just keep up good preventive practices. This helps keep small issues from becoming severe. Most serious problems like cancer or heart disease don’t start dramatically, and my power patients pay attention to the small changes and share them with experts who respond immediately so no condition can evolve into a true threat.  

If every patient adopted this approach, most chronic health conditions would be minor or obsolete, and aging wouldn’t mean the end of good quality of life. Though these steps typically come from my most affluent patients, whose wealth makes them feel empowered to address their health proactively, anyone can use them to
improve their health. 

Action: Make sure you have a clear plan and trusted team to consult for small changes in your health. You should feel comfortable calling them at any time and be able to quickly get appointments to investigate any concerns.

Dan Carlin, a physician, is CEO of WorldClinic, a New London, N.H.-based telemedicine practice. Read more of his columns here.

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