Use your doctor as a teacher and coach
Some patients just want their doctors to tell them what to do. They don't want to know the whys and the hows. Some of the time, that's fine. But if you really want to get care that best meets your needs, be a patient and a student.
Don't just ask your doctor what you should do. Ask why. Your doctor can help you understand your care.
Don't worry about being thought of as a "difficult" patient. Asking questions is not being difficult-it's being an active participant in your own health care.
Always ask to see if you have options. Which options seem best for you? What are their pros and cons? What effects might your choice have in the short term and over the long term?
Benefit from your doctor's experience with other patients. Even though every patient's situation is different, your doctor has probably helped other patients work through the same questions and decisions that you have to deal with. Some doctors may be better teachers and coaches than others, but they really do want to help you get the answers you need.
Tell your doctor that you care about cost
A doctor's main focus is to help you get better, not to save you money. But if you speak up, your doctor may be able to help with both.
Don't expect your doctor to know the exact cost of a drug or test or treatment. There are so many things that determine the cost of care-your health plan's arrangement with your doctor, how your plan bills for care, where you get the care, and others. But your doctor can give you an idea of how the cost of one choice compares to another.
Prepare for every doctor visit
This helps your doctor give you better care and helps both of you make the most of the visit.
- Be ready to say what your main symptoms are, when they started, and what you have done to treat them so far. It may help to write these things down before your doctor visit.
- Write down the three questions that you most want to have answered. If the doctor doesn't bring them up, don't be afraid to ask.
- Bring a list of all the medicines, vitamins, and herbal supplements that you are taking.
- Bring copies of recent test results if the tests were done by a different doctor.
Take an active role in every visit or call
- Pay attention. Ask questions if you don't understand something.
- Write down the diagnosis, the treatment plan, and guidelines for self-care and follow-up visits or calls.
- Have a family member or friend with you during your appointment, if possible. He or she can take notes, ask questions to clarify information, and help you remember what your doctor says.
- Be honest and direct about what you do or do not plan to do.
Learn all you can about your health problem
Good information-whether you get it from your doctor, the library, or a trusted website-is a powerful tool for helping you make wise health decisions. If you have a complicated problem or want to know more about your health options:
- Start by asking your doctor if he or she has information about your problem that you could take home. Some doctors offer DVDs, CDs, brochures, or reprints from medical journals. Some doctors can send links to video, websites, or other electronic information.
- If you need to make a decision about a treatment, find out how quickly you need to decide. You may have a few days, weeks, or months to explore your options.
- If your health plan has an advice line, call and ask if they can help you get more information.
- If you use the Internet to find health information, start by searching sources such as the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), or a national organization that represents a particular disease, like the American Diabetes Association or the National Cancer Institute. These sources present information that is based on the analysis of a large body of medical evidence. Your health plan may also provide health information on its website.
- If you have questions or concerns about the information you find, discuss them with your doctor.
How to ask questions
When you're not feeling well or you're worried about your health, it's harder than usual to understand what a doctor is saying.
When there's something you don't understand, ask questions. Don't know how to ask? Try one or more of these suggestions:
- "I want to make sure I understand. Would you go over that again?"
- "Tell me more about ... "
- "Could you explain that in a different way?"
- "Can you draw a picture for me?"
- "Can I read more about this somewhere? Do you have anything you can send me electronically?"
In the hospital
Being in the hospital can be even more stressful than an office visit. And stress makes it even harder to process information.
If you think of questions when the doctor isn't there, write them down so that you can remember to ask them. This is important because your doctor may come by only once a day. Any questions you forget to ask might have to wait until the next day.
It can also help to have a friend or family member in the room when you expect your doctor or another provider to visit. This person can help you remember things you wanted to ask and may think of questions you haven't thought of.