How can you feel more in control of your health and ongoing care? Be your own health advocate.
Successful health advocates feel more confident about the choices they make with their doctors. They’re often healthier or even live longer than people who let others make all of their health care decisions.
What’s a Health Advocate?
Health advocates take control of their health care experience. You and your doctors make decisions as a team. You speak up with your questions, needs, concerns, and preferences.
Take some time to think about your health goals. Ask yourself how you define a good quality of life or what matters most to you when it comes to your health.
As a health advocate, you have to do your part, too. Take your medications as prescribed. Follow your doctor’s recommendations about diet, exercise, rest, smoking, and alcohol use.
Your Doctor-Patient Relationship
Your relationship with your doctor should be open, honest, and trusting. You and your doctor are partners. They should listen to your concerns and answer your questions, so you feel comfortable.
You should feel you can talk about anything with the doctor, even sensitive subjects like sex or the price of tests or treatments. The doctor should be sure that you understand and feel comfortable with health decisions.
Respect each other’s time. Show up on time for your appointments. Let your doctor know if you feel rushed during exams. If you don’t have time to ask all your questions, schedule another visit so you can talk more.
Be Open and Honest
Your doctor needs complete, honest information about your health. Keep a folder or notebook with these details:
- Current prescriptions
- Past medical records or lab test results, such as X-rays
- Personal and family medical history
- Drug allergies
- Over-the-counter medicines, herbs, vitamins, or supplements you take
Let the doctor know if you’ve noticed any changes in your health since your last visit, like appetite, energy levels, bathroom habits, or ability to sleep. Don’t assume anything you’ve experienced is unimportant.
Do Your Health Homework
Do your homework before and after each doctor’s visit. Research your symptoms, conditions, treatment options, and tests online or at your local library. This helps you understand your condition, treatments, and any terms your doctor may use.
Read up on any new medications the doctor prescribes. Carefully check medical forms or directions on how to do treatments, like oxygen therapy.
If you don’t understand what a condition is, what a treatment does, or how you should take it, ask the doctor to give you the information in wording you can understand.
If you don’t understand your diagnosis, treatment options, or anything the doctor suggests, ask them or a nurse to explain it in a clear, simple way until you feel comfortable.
Write down your questions ahead of time so you don’t forget to ask them.
During office visits, ask your doctor to explain:
- All treatment options for your condition
- Why you may need any tests, treatments, or procedures
- Risks, side effects, and costs of any tests, treatments, or procedures
- Success rates of potential treatments
- Any medical terms or suggestions you don’t understand
Ask the doctor to go over any new medication. Ask why you’re taking it, the possible side effects, how and when to take it, and what to do if you miss a dose or can’t take it due to side effects. Ask your pharmacist these questions too.
If your doctor suggests certain treatments or tests:
- Ask what they cost and if there are less expensive options. Ask if there’s another drug from the same family that is covered by your insurance. Or see if you can switch to a generic drug. If the doctor doesn’t know, they may be able to suggest someone who does.
- Find out if your insurance plan covers any new prescription, test, or procedure. Ask if you can put off some tests or procedures until you meet your deductible.
- Call pharmacies or go online to find out where you can get the best price on any new prescription drug.
Don’t sign any consent form until you understand it completely and the doctor has answered all your questions.
How to Talk to Your Doctor
How can you communicate with your doctor better? Here are some helpful tips:
- Introduce yourself to new doctors or nurses. Let them know what name or nickname you prefer.
- Ask for help in your native language or ask if the doctor’s office has an interpreter. You can also bring a friend or family member with you to help.
- Make eye contact when you talk.
- Let doctors know if you have any hearing or vision problems that make it hard to communicate with them.
- Listen while they explain your diagnosis or treatment options. Once they’re finished, ask questions or bring up your concerns.
- Ask how to contact your doctor’s office with questions, insurance matters, medicine refills, or to schedule follow-ups. Some offices may prefer email to phone calls with non-urgent requests.
National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship: “Becoming a Self-Advocate.”
University of Rochester Medical Center: “How to Be an Active Patient.”
Allina Health: “Speak Up for Your Healthcare.”
Facing Our Risk of Cancer Empowered: “Be Your Own Health Advocate! If Your Doctor Isn’t Asking You These Questions, Ask Them Yourself.”
National Institutes of Health: “Talking to Your Doctor.”
American Medical Association: “Patient-Physician Relationships.”
Cleveland Clinic: “How to Get the Best From Your Relationship With Your Doctor,” “How to Look for a New Doctor: 4 Traits You Want.”
ConsumerReports.org: “How to Talk to Your Doctor About Medical Costs.”
CommunityCatalyst.org: “Balancing Cost and Quality.”
National Institute on Aging: “How to Prepare for a Doctor’s Appointment.”
Harvard Medical School: “Doctor-patient Relationship Improves Your Health.”
Health Services Research: “Does This Doctor Speak My Language?” Improving the Characterization of Physician Non-English Language Skills.”
plainlanguage.gov: “Plain Language in Healthcare.”
Cleveland Clinic: “How Older Adults Can Get the Most Benefit From Medical Visits.”
National Patient Advocate Foundation: “Cost of Care – Discussion Guide.”