Health Encyclopedia

How to Be an Active Patient

People who are actively involved in their medical care stay healthier, recover quicker when they're ill and live longer, healthier lives, says the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

Active patients participate as partners in their health care with their doctors and other health care providers. They don't make health care decisions on their own, but they're in charge of the process because they schedule appropriate visits to their health care providers, plan ahead to get the most out of those visits, learn about their conditions and medications, and follow through on treatments and lifestyle changes as agreed upon by them and their doctors.

Be informed

Being informed about any health conditions you have can keep you from passively agreeing to tests and treatments.

Decide what you want to get out of an appointment before you walk into the office. Write down any questions you have and any issues you want to discuss beforehand. Bring your notes and refer to them.

Other ideas:

  • Bring a list of all the prescribed and over-the-counter drugs, herbs, and supplements you take and note your dosages.

  • Bring a list of any medicines to which you are allergic.

  • Keep a health diary. If you have a chronic condition or specific health concern, make a dated log of your general health, taking special note of symptoms or changes. This will remind you to discuss certain things with your health care provider and also will help him or her chart any change in your symptoms over time.

  • If you're seeing a new health care provider or a specialist for the first time, bring copies of your medical history and information on diseases, conditions, and cause of death of family members. This will help build your medical profile and put your current state of health into perspective. Write or call your previous health care provider and request that copies of your records and lab and X-ray reports be given to you or sent directly to the new health care provider.

Be responsible

Schedule and keep appropriate medical appointments.

Answer your health care provider's questions completely and truthfully. For example, if you're worried you'll have difficulty with a suggested treatment, say so.

Avoid saying what you believe your doctor wants to hear. If you don't think your treatment is helping you, speak up. Share your fears and concerns about your condition. Ask what to expect while you're getting better and how long your health care provider thinks it will take before your illness is cured or your symptoms are under control. It's essential to speak openly about symptoms because your doctor uses the information you provide to make a diagnosis and determine a treatment plan. Plus, a problem will remain untreated if you don't discuss it.

Other ideas:

  • Follow your doctor's instructions. For example, be sure to take any medicine prescribed, as scheduled, and follow any other physical and dietary regimens he or she recommends. If you feel worse or you don't believe the treatment is working, call your doctor immediately. This feedback will help the two of you work together to adjust your treatment and find therapies that work best for you.

  • Listen closely. Listening carefully to what your health care provider says about your condition is as important as giving him or her an accurate assessment of your health. Take notes during your visit if you think you may forget part of your treatment regimen.

  • Be ready to answer specific questions. Your health care provider needs to know your specific symptoms, when they started, and if they appear at certain times of the day or after certain activities, such as eating.

  • Advise your health care provider if you're pregnant. This will affect the treatment a doctor recommends.

  • Take all medications as directed. Follow drug dosages precisely. Taking more of a medication could be dangerous; taking less could delay your recovery.

  • Make positive lifestyle changes to reinforce your medical treatment. Stop smoking, limit your alcohol intake, improve your diet, get enough rest, and exercise regularly; these can improve your immunity and your body's ability to heal itself.

Learn about your condition

Understanding your condition can help you manage and control chronic illnesses, such as asthma or heart disease.

Ask your health care provider to recommend additional sources of information if you want to know more about your condition. Libraries, valid Internet sites, support groups, and associations can be helpful. Be aware that advice given on some health-related Web sites and chat rooms may be hearsay.

If you have a serious condition, ask if there are other treatment options besides the one your doctor recommends.

You have a right to get the information you need to make decisions about your care.

This information may include:

  • Explanations of the purpose of tests and procedures that may be costly, painful, or risky

  • Explanations of the purpose and expected effectiveness, and side effects of treatments

  • Clarification on any medical advice or words you don't understand

Learn about your medications

One of your doctor's primary roles is to prescribe and monitor your medication use. Your responsibility is to take the right amount at the right time.

Be sure you know the following before taking a prescription or over-the-counter medication, herb, or supplement:

  • The medicine's name and what it's supposed to do

  • How often you should take it

  • Any medicines, foods or beverages to avoid when taking it

  • Its possible side effects

  • What you should do if you forget a dose



Medical Reviewers:

  • Fincannon, Joy, RN, MN
  • Hanrahan, Maura, MD