Work With Your Doctor

Once you’ve found the right doctor, you can’t sit back and expect him or her to do all the work for you. Partnering with your doctor requires that you take a proactive role in managing your own health. There’s increasing evidence that patients who actively partner with their doctors receive the most medically effective and cost-effective care.

Here are some steps you can take to establish and maintain an active, productive partnership with your doctor:

  • Understand your medical coverage. Today, most doctors participate in numerous health plans. So it’s unlikely that he or she will know the ins and outs of each plan. It’s up to you to understand the specifics of your plan—especially which doctors, hospitals and other facilities participate in the plan; which medical services are covered and which aren’t; and whether you need to get approval from your plan or make any special arrangements for a particular service to be covered. If you have a question about coverage for a particular procedure or service, contact your health plan.
  • Prepare for your office visit. Don’t wait until you’re on the examining table to think about what you want to say to your doctor. Write down any questions you may have and any symptoms you may be experiencing in advance. Also, make a list of all your medications and take it to the office visit with you.
  • Research your medical issues in advance. When you have an issue, don’t wait until your doctor’s visit to learn about it. Today, you have access to many reliable resources for health care information on the Internet—including the Healthy Lifestyles Program and your health plan’s Web site. Go online to research the issues that interest you. If you know more about your condition, you can make better decisions and, in the long run, use your doctor’s visit more effectively. Confirm the information you’ve gathered with your doctor, use it to guide your discussions, and don’t be afraid to ask for more information. Talk with your family about your family medical history, since it may be related to your medical issues—and be prepared to discuss your findings with your doctor.
  • Be honest. Your doctor can only prescribe appropriate treatment if he or she has the full picture. Tell your doctor about your eating, drinking, sleeping, exercising, smoking and other lifestyle habits. Let your doctor know how you’re feeling and whether you’ve recently undergone any major life changes. If you have a chronic health condition (for example, diabetes or high blood pressure), tell your doctor whether there have been any changes, whether you’re experiencing any new symptoms, and whether you’ve been following your treatment plan.
  • Listen, ask and write. If you don’t understand something about what your doctor is telling you, ask. Be sure that you understand why your doctor is recommending a particular test or treatment. Find out what the associated benefits, risks, side effects and costs are, and what you need to do. Ask whether there are any alternatives that you might want to consider, what the consequences could be if you postpone or forgo your doctor’s recommendation, and what you should expect in terms of your recovery. Don’t think of asking questions as “challenging” your doctor’s opinions, education or training. Asking questions shows that you’re interested in your health and in being a more informed patient—something that most doctors will appreciate. Your doctor is there to answer your questions, so speak up. If you don’t think you’ll be able to speak up for yourself, you may want to have a trusted family member or friend go with you to your doctor’s appointment.
  • Get the results of all tests. When you have a medical test, find out what your doctor is looking for and when you should expect the results. If you don’t hear back from your doctor in a reasonable time, call.
  • Learn about wellness and preventive care guidelines. Do some research about immunizations and health screenings at Web sites like the Healthy Lifestyles Program, the Employee Assistance Program and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Also, visit your health plan’s Web site to learn which screenings are covered. Be sure to talk with your doctor to make sure you receive the best preventive care possible, since this can help you avoid health problems later.