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Be Your Own Health Advocate

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

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.

In the first instance, there's plenty of time to evaluate the relationship. In the other, things have to click immediately.

How many doctors are involved in your care is another worthy consideration. Seeing too many doctors can sometimes cause unnecessary hassle and costs for patients, and can contribute to errors.

"I think patients benefit from having one main doctor," Alexander says.

Your primary doctor should orchestrate your care -- or at least be kept in the loop about care you get from specialists. There are always exceptions, but as a general rule, it's best not to crowd your health care roster with specialists. Not all arthritis pain needs to be treated by a rheumatologist, for example.

Specialists can play an invaluable role in diagnosing a condition and deciding the best course of treatment, but eventually they may be no longer needed. At some point, a primary-care doctor may be able to take over. "Don't be afraid to terminate a relationship with a specialist if they're no longer really important," Alexander says.

Can You Stand Up to Your MD?

The things that will make you an active advocate for your health care are simple, but not easy for everyone to do. The doctor's role as an authority figure is still deeply ingrained in the culture.

Do you follow doctor's orders, or do you participate in shared medical decision-making? The latter sounds better, but when you are in the room, with the paper on the exam table crinkling under your bare bottom, you may not feel so empowered.

"What we're doing is fundamentally challenging a lot of patients' basic notions of what the doctor's and the patient's roles are," Haidet says. "That's a huge bar for patients to leap over."

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