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

Patient 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 doctors, taking medications as prescribed, eating healthy, and exercising regularly.

It also allows you to create a joint partnership with your doctors so change can actually be long lasting.

Here are three things you need to know about patient empowerment.

1. Patient 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.

When you're active and involved, you achieve better health 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 chronic illness are much easier to work with.

1. Education empowers you

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

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

You have options. You should take responsibility to understand treatment options and the costs and benefits of each; only you know if the benefits outweigh the costs.

You should also 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.

2. 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 other patients, but ultimately, it's your decision to set your 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 difficult, 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 you would actually like to try in the future.

3. Trust your instincts

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