Lana Barhum is a legal assistant, patient advocate, freelance writer, blogger, and single parent. She has lived with rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia since 2008 and uses her experiences to share expert advice on living successfully with chronic illness.

It is difficult for people to do what they don’t understand. Therefore, it is vital to arm yourself with the knowledge necessary to take a more active role in your healthcare.

Health empowerment allows you to take an active role in the decisions you make about your health. Moreover, empowerment requires you to take responsibility through open communication with your doctor, taking medications as prescribed, eating healthy, and exercising regularly. It also allows you to create a joint partnership with your doctor, where change can be long lasting.

3 things you need to know about health empowerment:

1. Health empowerment is important.
Chronic illness is the biggest cause of death and disability in the United States according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. You are the only one in the position to decide what managing your disease means because you are responsible for following treatments and making the best of your life despite chronic illness.

You are always at the center of diabetes care. When you are active and involved, you achieve better outcomes. Doctors don’t necessarily know the details of your life. You are the expert on your life, and you know what your priorities are, what motivates you, and what goals you have in mind better than anyone else. Physicians find that those who take responsibility for their diabetes are much easier to work with.

2. Education empowers you.
The first step in taking responsibility for your healthcare is through education about your diabetes and how to best manage symptoms. You need to learn all you can about your diabetes. Because doctors no longer have the time to sit down and lecture you about taking care of yourself, you need to learn how diabetes affects your life and how you can best manage your life when the disease symptoms affect your lifestyle.

You need to understand the seriousness of your condition in order to make changes in your health. These changes involve day-to-day self-management. Every decision you make throughout the day influences your health. This includes actions such as taking the stairs instead of the elevator or choosing an apple instead of a bag of chips.

Remember that you have options when it comes to treating your diabetes. You should take responsibility to understand treatment options and the costs and benefits of each; only you know if the benefits outweigh the costs.

And finally, you should understand you are the only one who can change your behavior. You can do this by setting small goals and figuring out what you need to learn along the way.

3. Empowerment helps you set goals.
You'll do best when you find out what works for you on your own. Doctors can offer suggestions on what has worked for others, but ultimately, it is each person's decision to set their own goals and make the final decisions.

The process of goal setting involves understanding the problem and then determining a plan to solve it. In order to understand the problem, think about all the things that concern and distress you, which activities are hard, and what you would like to see changed.

Once you have determined what the problem is, you can figure out how to resolve it. Take into consideration what you would like to see happen, what you have done in the past, and what things you would actually like to try.

Trust your instincts

Doctors can give advice, but they can’t make the decisions for you, and many of these decisions have long-lasting impacts. Ultimately, you need to trust your instincts to find solutions and take responsibility for your own health. You are the only one who can empower yourself along your health journey.

To learn more about communicating with your doctor with authority:

Talking to Your Doctor: Deciding When, How – and If – to Speak Up
One Question I Wish Every Doctor Would Ask During a Diabetes Appointment
Does Your Doctor Share Your Visit Notes with You?