Any time of the year is always a good time to put your health first. But what’s great about the beginning of a new year is that we get refocus and restate our goals. Maybe this is the year you stop smoking, lose weight or make more time for you. These goals all have the potential for big payoffs.

But one of the best things we can all do for our health is to take charge of our health care, says Eric Anderson, MD, a board-certified emergency medicine physician at Cleveland Clinic medical center. “Research has proven that if you actively participate in your health care, especially if you have a certain medical condition, like diabetes or high blood pressure, you’ll definitely have a better outcome.”

One of the first steps to taking charge is to get organized. Here are six steps to help you work toward a healthier you in the new year.

1. Schedule your health screenings now. Even if you don’t feel sick, things can be going on in your body that only a screening, such as a mammogram, Pap smear or colon cancer test can detect. In January, schedule appointments for the year ahead. Make sure you hit all of the recommended ones by the end of the year.

To help figure out which preventive health screenings make the most sense for you, ask your doctor to weigh in at your annual well visit, advises Anderson. “Your age, gender, family history, blood pressure numbers and current medical conditions definitely play a key role,” he says. If your annual well-visit exam isn’t scheduled yet, start by making this appointment.

2. Find out your family health history. Do you feel clueless when filling out those medical history forms at the doctor’s office? This is the year to sit down with family members and get the scoop on your family medical history. Knowing if you have any disease markers or other inheritable medical conditions can help your doctor to zero in on your risks. This user-friendly tracking tool from the Surgeon General can help you create and update your family’s health history.

3. Take your prescribed medications daily. It may come as a surprise, but about 50 percent of people don’t stick to their medication schedule — even when they have chronic or life-threatening diseases.

4. Carry a medical emergency card. Print out this handy emergency card from National Institutes of Health. Write down your medical conditions and any medications you take, including the dosage, and keep it in your wallet. The card should also list your doctors, allergies and your emergency contacts. “If you end up in the ER with a broken leg or chest pain, you’re not going to remember everything,” says Anderson. “But it you have it all written down, you can easily point to where it is.” Anderson adds that as ER physician, this info helps him determine which medicines to give a patient, and more importantly what not to give the patient.

If you have a serious health condition, food or drug allergy, wear a medical alert bracelet or necklace. Being able to make an ER doctor immediately aware of a serious drug or food allergy could save your life.

5. Manage your home medical records. Don’t rely on your doctors to keep track of your health information. Not all doctors sync their patient’s records with other doctors and medical facilities you’ve visited. Keep track of immunization records, past surgeries, lab reports, genetic tests and any current medical conditions and medications.

Tracking your own medical records will help reduce the risk of error. Plus you’ll know exactly where to find this important info if a doctor requests it. “Keep them in a red envelope so it stands out on your desk,” recommends Dr. Anderson. Use a folder with individual pockets and organize by category

6. Research doctors and hospitals. Before you entrust a doctor or hospital with your health and your life, look online to find ratings for quality assurance. The federal government is now posting information on hospitals nationwide, including hospitals’ complication rates and patient survey results. allows you to plug in the name of a doctor and review her overall patient satisfaction level.

Tara Rummell Berson is a health and wellness writer and editor. Her work has been featured in numerous media outlets, including Redbook, WebMD and The Huffington Post.