Good health care doesn't just happen. You have to do your part.
Taking an active role in your health care is the best way to make sure you get
great care and reduce costs at the same time.
A strong partnership
between you and your doctor is key to getting great care and reducing costs. A
doctor who not only knows your medical history but understands what's important
to you may be the resource you need most when you face a major health care
Find a Doctor Who Will Be a Partner
A primary care
physician such as a
family medicine doctor or an
internist who knows and understands your needs can be
your most valuable health partner. Specialists who work on separate health
problems may not see your whole health picture or get a good understanding of
what's important to you. When you choose a doctor, there are lots of questions
to ask, but these three matter the most:
Is the doctor well trained and
Will the doctor be available when
Will the doctor work in partnership with me?
Training and experience
For most people, a good
choice for a primary care physician is a board-certified family medicine doctor
or an internist. For children and teens, a board-certified
pediatrician or family medicine doctor is a good
A doctor becomes board-certified by completing training in
a specialty area and passing an examination to demonstrate that he or she has
the skills and experience needed to practice that medical specialty. To
maintain their certification, doctors must take continuing medical education
courses and pass periodic examinations. Board-certified family doctors,
internists, and pediatricians have knowledge about many common medical
problems. For more information, see the topic Medical Specialists.
Because health problems rarely
develop when it's convenient, it helps to have a doctor who can see you when
needed. Before you select a doctor, call or visit his or her office. Tell the
clinic receptionist that you are looking for a new doctor. Ask these
Is the doctor accepting new
What are the office hours?
If I called right
now for a routine visit, how soon could I be seen?
How much time is
allowed for a routine visit?
If I cancel an appointment, will I be
charged for it?
Will the doctor discuss health problems over the
phone or by email?
Does the doctor work with
nurse practitioners or
physician assistants? (These health professionals have
special training in managing minor and routine medical problems. They can often
see you sooner, take care of minor health problems, and communicate with your
regular doctor about your concerns.)
Who fills in for the doctor
when he or she is not available?
What hospitals does the doctor
Does the doctor belong to my health
plan, and will the office bill my insurance for me?
the doctor speak to you in terms you can understand?
doctor spend enough time with you?
Do you think you could build a
good working relationship with the doctor?
If the answers are no, look for another doctor. It may
take more than one visit for you to decide whether you will be able to work
with a doctor.
Is it time for a change?
If you are unhappy with
how your doctor treats you, it may be time for a change. Before you start
looking for a new doctor, talk with your current doctor about how you would
like to be treated. Your doctor will probably be pleased to work with you as a
partner if you tell him or her that's what you want. If you don't make your
wishes known, your doctor may think that you, like many people, want him or her
to do all the work.
Learn All You Can From Your Doctor
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.
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
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.
down the three questions that you most want to have answered. If the doctor
does not bring them up, don't be afraid to ask.
Bring a list of all
the medicines, vitamins, and herbal supplements that you are
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
Write down the diagnosis, the treatment plan,
and any guidelines for self-care and follow-up visits or calls.
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
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.
Other Places To Get Help
Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality: Consumers & Patients
540 Gaither Road
Rockville, MD 20850
This Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) website has evidence-based tips on staying healthy, choosing quality care, getting safe care, understanding diseases, comparing medical treatments, and more. AHRQ is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. It supports research that will help people make more informed decisions and improve the quality of health care services.
National Institutes of Health: Clear Communication
This U.S. Department of Health and Human Services website offers tips for how to partner with your doctor.
National Patient Safety Foundation
268 Summer Street, 6th Floor
Boston, MA 02210
The National Patient Safety Foundation is an organization dedicated
to improving the safety of patients. The foundation works to raise public
awareness about patient safety and is a resource for people and organizations
who are concerned about the safety of patients.
How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.