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Tips for Protecting Your HeartTips for Protecting Your Heart

Here are some of the things that you can do to better take control.

1. Information is widely available nowadays and while I have written about the dangers of cyberchondria, reading about a condition on the internet and immediately deciding that’s what you have, it does make sense to do a check up online after your check up in person. For instance, if your earache has been diagnosed as being due to an infection and after three weeks of antibiotics there is no improvement, a quick google will suggest you might need to be seen by a specialist. Coming soon in another article I will be talking about how artificial intelligence might help in this space. With each passing year, I could do with some real intelligence!

2. Contrary to popular myth, good doctors are not offended by requests for second opinions. If a patient is feeling unsure about either the recommended course of treatment or the relationship with their doctor, then a second opinion is to everyone’s benefit. Remember, it is your health, your disease, your decision. Politely asking your doctor to make records available to another provider should never be met with anything other than consent. But if your doctor does object, that is evidence enough – get out of there fast!

3. Remember, you are a pilot and as such are subject to regulatory as well as clinical medical decisions. Any prescribed treatments can have implications for flying and you should always discuss this with healthcare practitioners before embarking on a new drug or intervention. Of course, your health must come first, but there may be options that would not impact flight or maybe you will need proper documentation so it is best to be prepared by utilizing Pilot Protection Services and the resources AOPA provides.  

4. We all know the old chestnuts about old pilots and bold pilots; one gets to be an old pilot by following directions. Yes, flying is an adventurous pursuit, but not foolishly so. Flying in IMC to test your IFR skills is satisfying, flying into known icing or convection is plain daft. ATC telling you to turn left to 270 and descend to 3,300 feet during vectors for an ILS is not a suggestion, it is a directive. Why then do patients, especially pilot patients not follow commands? “5 golf whiskey, full route clearance, are you ready to copy?” You would never just sit there and try to remember important stuff, right? But people do that all the time in doctors’ offices and, as a result, less than 25% of all medical instructions are followed. Not surprising some people do not get better.  

5. This next one will, I know, provoke some of my readers to level an accusation at me that I am representative of a cabal of physicians trying to protect our fiefdom, drive up cost and be dismissive of new ideas. Au contraire, I want to protect patients, not doctors or the pharmaceutical industry, drive down cost and am completely open to new ideas. Just not ideas that are either as obviously as mad as a box of frogs or completely unproven in such a way that you are the experiment.  

For a doctor to make it through medical school and residency is pretty demanding intellectually and temporally – I am not saying we are the brightest or the best, but the vast majority of practitioners are committed, sincere and understand their obligation to their patients. Likewise, for approved medical therapies to make it through proper scientific clinical trials is very costly and takes a long time. That is why I cringe when I hear about marginal providers offering services that have no basis in fact. Pseudoscience is actually not that hard to spot: people offering miracle cures that have not undergone stringent testing; make astounding claims that are eschewed by the medical establishment; and charge large sums of money. I recommend you spend a fruitful hour or two on websites that expose this sort of thing. And much of it is not “harmless” because if someone delays their conventional medical therapy for, let’s say colon cancer, in favor of having high pressure oxygen, psychic surgery or fruit oil rubs, that delay could cost them their life. I have seen it happen.  

So, take these rules to heart when protecting your heart, keep them in mind if your head hurts, and doctor well in addition to flying well!

Jonathan Sackier

Jonathan Sackier

Dr. Jonathan Sackier answers AOPA members’ medical questions through the AOPA Pilot Protection Services program.

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