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50+: Live Better, Longer

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Be Your Own Health Advocate

Change from passive patient to an active advocate for your own health care.

C: Communicate Concerns and Desires

Communication means asserting yourself if you have a problem with the care you're getting, or if there's an issue you want your doctor to consider.

Your out-of-pocket costs, for example, may be a concern. Nearly 46 million Americans lack health insurance, and even those who are insured end up paying about one-third of what they spend on health care out-of-pocket. Nevertheless, many are shy about bringing up financial concerns with a doctor.

"There are many barriers that prevent patients from raising concerns," says G. Caleb Alexander, MD, an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Chicago. Some are embarrassed, he says, while others don't bring it up because they think there's nothing doctors can do, or that they don't have enough time to talk about it. What's more, some people fear they will get substandard care if they mention money is an object.

"The fact of the matter is that in almost all cases physicians have good options available to assist patients who are burdened by their out-of-pocket costs," Alexander says.

For example: the doctor may know about financial assistance programs or other resources to help you pay your bill. Or the doctor may be able to help by discounting the fee for the office visit, or by sending you home with free prescription drug samples. You might also find out that a less expensive treatment option could potentially work just as well as a newer and pricier option.

How to Pick Your Health Care Team

An actively involved patient knows what he or she expects from a doctor. Everyone should expect to be taken seriously and treated with respect, Gruman says. Accept nothing less.

Beyond that, people's expectations vary greatly. The kind of relationship you want to have with a doctor may depend not only on your personal preferences, but also the reason why you need medical care.

"If you're just trying out a new primary care doctor, that's a very different kind of relationship-building experience than if you were just referred to an oncologist because you have a very bad case of pancreatic cancer," Gruman says.

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