Metro Detroit doctor shares simple secret to tackle health problems

‘It makes people more successful when they can check the box,’ doctor says

You might have heard that keeping a journal is good for mental health, but a St. Clair Shores cardiologist is saying that’s only one of the many benefits.
You might have heard that keeping a journal is good for mental health, but a St. Clair Shores cardiologist is saying that’s only one of the many benefits.

ST. CLAIR SHORES, Mich. – Making one health change can be hard. Making multiple changes is even more difficult.

But one St. Clair Shores cardiologist is devoted to helping her patients create a plan to improve their health and actually stick to it.

Dr. Joan Crawford is the Medical Director of Non-Invasive Cardiology at Ascension Macomb-Oakland Hospital. She routinely sees patients facing life or death challenges.

“If someone just had a heart attack, and they have to quit smoking, watch their sugar, change their diet, lose weight, it becomes extremely overwhelming,” said Crawford. “The next time you see them, maybe they did one thing, maybe they didn’t or maybe they are the same weight or five pounds heavier.”

Crawford says a simple notebook can help patients focus.

"I think having your goals written down, you make a commitment and you organize your thoughts," explained Crawford. "Go to the drug store and buy just a little pad and basically just write down 10 or 20 health goals and then just really think about it and say, 'What is it I can really start doing this month? And what is it that I am going to wait and try to kick in in 6 months?'"

The steps to accomplish that goal also go in the notebook, along with their daily progress and anything else patients need to track or want to remember.

"I think people are very goal-oriented. It makes people more successful when they can check the box like, 'Did this, did this, did this,'" said Crawford. "When we meet again, I'm like, 'Get out your book, and let's pick the next goal.'"

One of Crawford's patients who is benefiting from the journal idea is Anita Paschal from Roseville.

"It was you want to live or you want to die. That was the choice, live or die and I chose to live," said Paschal.

Paschal has survived multiple major medical problems.

"Starting in March of 2016, three strokes," said Paschal.

Then in May of 2018, she went into pulmonary and cardiac arrest and woke up in intensive care.

"The doctor said, 'You were born again. You are lucky.' And I say, 'I'm blessed.' That's what I say," said Paschal.

Paschal had already quit smoking and started losing weight, but now she's working with Crawford to make other critical changes.

"How have your blood pressures been going?" asked Crawford.

"Blood pressure, absolutely phenomenal," said Paschal.

"I like to tell patients that they should own their disease and don't let their disease own them," said Crawford. "Many patients have goals in life, so I try to help patients realize they have health goals in life."

Paschal believes in the power of journals.

"I write everything in this journal. Emotions, how I am feeling. You have to put it on paper because if you don't write it down, it kind of kind of just goes away," said Paschal.

She encourages everyone to get a notebook and a doctor who can help you get back on track.

"This is a plan. The difference was she gave me a plan. This is how we can work this out. These are the goals, this is what we are reaching for. Life doesn't get better by chances, it gets better by changes," said Paschal. "Now I'm understood. Now help is on the way. Now I can be better and be great, and so I like that I'm excited about that."

Crawford also strongly believes in high tech help. She recommends her patients use apps to track their home blood pressure readings and apps like MyFitnessPal to track diet, exercise, water intake and the sodium content of foods. She also likes GoodRx to help them save money on their prescriptions.

To see how her patients are using GoodRx, click here.