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 health care providers. They don't make health care decisions on their own, but they're in charge of the process. 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 they agree to with their health care providers.

Be informed

Being informed about any health conditions you have can keep you from just going along with 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 how much you take of each.

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

  • Keep a health diary. If you have a constant condition or specific health concern, make a dated log of your general health. Make special notes about symptoms or changes.

  • 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. Write or call your previous health care provider and ask for 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 medical appointments.

Answer your health care provider's questions completely and truthfully.

If you don't think your treatment is helping you, speak up. 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 important to speak openly about symptoms because your health care provider uses the information you provide to make a diagnosis and determine a treatment plan. And, a problem won’t be treated if you don't discuss it.

Other ideas:

  • Follow your health care provider's instructions. Be sure to take any medicine prescribed, as scheduled. 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 health care provider immediately.

  • Listen carefully to what your health care provider says about your condition. This is as important as giving him or her a correct evaluation of your health. Take notes during your visit if you think you may forget part of your treatment.

  • 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 like eating.

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

  • Take all medications exactly as directed. Taking more of a medication could be dangerous. Taking less of a medication could delay your recovery.

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

Learn about your condition

Understanding your condition can help you manage and control chronic illnesses like 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 not be true.

If you have a serious condition, ask if there are other treatment options besides the one your health care provider 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 success, and side effects of treatments

  • Clear up any medical advice or words you don't understand

Learn about your medications

One of your health care provider's main roles is to prescribe and check 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:

  • Holloway, Beth, RN, MEd