How to Be a Well Informed Health Care User
Taking the time to become a well informed health care user is a matter of self-protection.
The benefits of being an active health care user include better health, more effective
health care, and lower health costs. It takes time and patience, but the peace of
mind is worth it. Here are some tips for getting the best value for your health care
Learn how to work with your health plan
The more you know about your health plan, the better you can use it in your favor.
Make sure to:
Get to know your benefits. Find out which services are covered. Learn the limits, exclusions, or maximums of
your plan. Choose a coverage level that meets, but doesn't go beyond your needs.
Understand your financial duties. Health plans often ask you to pay a part of the benefit costs. These come in the
form of deductibles, copayments, or flat fees. Use benefits wisely to save on out-of-pocket
Know how to access your benefits. Follow your plan's rules for referrals to specialists, being admitted to a hospital,
having surgery, or using an out-of-network provider.
Learn how to get help. Know who to call to find out about benefits, ask billing questions, solve a dispute,
and get a referral.
Use self-care services. Before planning an office visit, see if your plan has a nurse help line or similar
Work better with your health care provider
Your health care provider is your main advocate within the health care system. You
Find out how to use services. Can you ask your health care provider questions over the phone, or must you make
an appointment? Can you get a prescription over the phone?
Prepare for an office visit. Be sure your health care provider has all the information needed to make a diagnosis.
This includes your medical records, family medical history, and a list of the medications
you take. Bring along a list of questions and issues you want to talk about.
Educate yourself. Becoming an informed health care user can help make sure you get safe, quality care.
To do so, learn more about any conditions and treatments you get by asking your health
care provider for information for patients. Search reputable Internet sites such as
major hospitals or health care organizations or government sites. Talk with your health
care provider about what you find.
Follow through. When you commit to a treatment plan, take medications as prescribed. Make sure you
follow all disease-management and prevention steps.
Make the most of appointments
An office visit is also an opportunity. Make the most of it by:
Starting with open communication. Don’t assume your health care provider has all the information he or she needs. If
you think of a detail you forgot to bring up during an appointment, jot it down. Then,
call your health care provider or nurse.
Asking questions. Be sure to get a clear explanation of your care and ask about treatment, results,
and any possible side effects. Write down what your need to know about treatment.
Don’t trust your memory. And remember, it’s your right to get a second opinion if
you want one.
Sharing any history of allergies or reactions. Your provider needs to know how you’ve reacted to medicines or treatments. This will
help be sure you don’t get a medication that may harm you.
Ask your health care provider to write clearly. He or she should clearly write the name and purpose of a prescribed medicine, as
well as instructions for taking it. Then check to make sure the pharmacist gives you
the right one.
Mind your medications
If you get prescription for medication:
Tell your provider what medicines you take. This includes over-the-counter remedies and supplements—how much you take and when
you take them. Review your medicines at least once a year with your health care provider.
Keeping your records up-to-date helps prevent dangerous interactions.
Ask about generic medication. When generic medication is available, it can cost much less.
Follow directions. Taking too much or too little medicine or using the wrong one is the most common
Keep on top of preventive care
Talk with your health care provider about:
Screenings for cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and other problems
Immunizations for illnesses
Counseling for mental health concerns
Your diet and activity levels
Smoking or substance abuse
Steps you can take to prevent chronic disease
It’s up to you to follow your health care provider’s suggestions. Keep asking questions
until you know what you need to do. Being assertive and acting as your own health
care advocate is the best way to get the best health care.