Village Doctor Opens Door to Readers
Having spent many years at sea as a Naval Officer, Winter Harbor physician Dr. Benjamin Newman has announced he will be responding to medical questions from readers in the Fishermen’s Voice. Dr. Newman has taken care of sailors for years and will continue to do so through this monthly column.
In this month’s column I want to discuss the importance of preventive maintenance for your boat. That’s right, I want to discuss what I know is very important to you. Think about the time, effort and expense you spend inspecting your boat and its engine to make sure it is seaworthy and safe. I am sure many of you have learned the hard way that it is far cheaper to prevent a problem than to perform an overhaul. As the Fram filter people say: "You can pay me now or you can pay me later."
Now that you have thought about how much time, effort, and expense you have invested in your boat, I would like you to think about how much time, effort, and expense you HAVEN’T invested in your body. Obviously, if you are physically unable to go to sea it doesn’t matter how good of a condition your boat is in because you won’t be able to make a living. What I am suggesting is the importance of getting a regular tune-up. From a comparison standpoint there is really little difference between a mechanic and a physician. The major difference, as I see it, is the physician does not have the luxury to shut off the engine while doing your maintenance check.
What is a maintenance examination or commonly known as a complete physical examination? In my practice I don’t do physical examinations. What I do is a Health Risk Assessment. I strongly encourage my patients to see me once a year for a talk rather than just a physical examination. I personally spend about 45 minutes talking to my patients about their health concerns while they are comfortably seated in my consultation room rather than being dressed in a stupid paper gown sitting on the exam table. We discuss proper nutrition, exercise, supplements, and alternative medical approaches, such as acupuncture, and lifestyle changes.
To my way of thinking, the actual examination is the least important part of the visit. Often, after spending 45 minutes or so with a patient you have a good idea what is wrong with him or her. I also think laboratory tests specific to a patient should be considered at this time. I am not suggesting a cookbook approach to this health maintenance evaluation, whereby we run a ‘panel of tests.’ The examination and laboratory studies should be specific to the patient’s age, concerns, and problems that we have discussed.
This is also the time to address the fine details that we often let slide, but are very important in preventing catastrophic diseases. I am referring to reviewing your immunization record, your physical fitness program, nutrition, and whether you need other diagnostic tests such as an EKG, colonoscopy or mammogram. This is also the time I ask the patient about personal habits such as smoking, diet, drinking and recreational drug use. If they smoke, we talk about the possibility of smoking cessation. If he or she consumes too much alcohol or salt in their diet, we initiate a program that is specific to their personality and desires.
But what is most important is that you and your physician become partners in the approach to good health. I feel my role as a family physician is to make patients aware of things they can do to increase the quality of his or her life and suggest practical ways that they can decrease their chances of acquiring such diseases as arthritis, hypertension, heart disease, strokes, blindness, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, cancer and many other chronic and disabling diseases.
Clearly, we are what we eat and much attention should be given to nutrition during this health maintenance evaluation. Most doctors probably cannot afford to spend an hour with a patient, but nevertheless I think it is very important to do so. In the big scheme of things it makes sense.
By giving you this time to listen to your concerns and coordinate a health plan specific to you will pay huge dividends in the future as you will not have to rely on the medical system and eventually need to see the doctor much less often. Again, it goes back to the Fram filter philosophy of "Pay me now, or pay me later." A health maintenance evaluation is one of the best investments you can make. If it is good enough for your boat, it should be good enough for you.
We in the medical profession need to emphasize wellness rather than illness. And remember, no one cares more about your health than you and Captain Ben.
I hope the above helps you and may you have fair winds and following seas,
Dr. Newman will answer medical questions for readers that are emailed or U.S. mailed to the Fishermen’s Voice.
Type Dr. Newman in the subject line.
The Fishermen’s Voice,
Attention: Dr. Benjamin Newman.
P.O. Box 253, Gouldsboro, ME 04607