Atlanta - Mary Palmer is the office manager at Southern Eye Specialists, and at 58, she's also a patient, with a lot on her plate.
"I actually have everything most people don't want to have. I'm diabetic, hypertensive, (have) cholesterol and (have) heart disease," explains Palmer.
For years, Palmer says, she was so busy taking care of her sick mother, she didn't take care of herself. Then, in 2011, experiencing chest pain, she ended up in a cath lab, having blockages in her heart reopened.
"It turned into me having a heart attack on the table," recalls Palmer.
Palmer recovered, but staying healthy is a full time job. Dr. Ayanna Buckner, chair of the Metro Atlanta American Heart Association's health equity committee, says it's important for doctors and patients to be able to communicate and understand each other.
"So part of my job as a physician is to help the patient to feel empowered. To understand that it's their health, but also it's a partnership." Dr. Buckner. "And frequently it's not just about which medicines are prescribed. Lifestyle is extremely important. It's the most important treatment for high blood pressure, for heart disease and stroke."
That's a lot to cover in a 20 minute office visit. But, Buckner says patient need to know,
"How they should be eating, what types of choices they should be making when they're shopping for food. What the exercise programs that we recommend are really about," says Dr. Buckner.
Buckner says most of her patients want to get healthier,
"But there are competing priorities such as paying their bills, feeding their children, keeping their lights and water on," explains Dr. Buckner.
Mary Palmer found a program Dr. Buckner wholeheartedly recommends: a health literacy workshop. It was free at the Center for Black Women's Wellness, full of patients with questions, just like her.
"Just being able to go through that program and being able to talk to other people who have those conditions really affected me. It affected me in a way that I don't have to hide about it anymore," says Palmer.
And Palmer says she's learned to speak up for herself. She says advocate for yourself and don't be afraid to ask questions.
"Be honest about what's going on with you. Don't just tell the doctor some things. Tell the doctors everything."