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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 healthcare with their healthcare providers. They don't make healthcare decisions on their own. But they're in charge of the process. They schedule appropriate visits with their providers, and plan ahead to get the most out of those visits. They learn about their conditions and medicines. And they follow through on treatments and lifestyle changes they agree to with their 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 medicines, 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 healthcare 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 healthcare provider and ask for copies of your records and lab and X-ray reports be given to you or sent directly to the new healthcare provider.

Be responsible

Schedule and keep medical appointments.

Answer your healthcare 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 healthcare 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 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 healthcare provider's instructions. Be sure to take any medicine prescribed, as scheduled. Follow any other physical and dietary regimens they advise. If you feel worse or you don't believe the treatment is working, call your provider right away.

  • Listen carefully to what your provider says about your condition. This is as important as giving them 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 provider needs to know your specific symptoms and when they started. They need to know if symptoms appear at certain times of the day or after certain activities like eating.

  • Advise your provider if you're pregnant. This will affect the treatment they advise.

  • Take all medicines exactly as directed. Taking more of a medicine could be dangerous. Taking less of a medicine 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 ongoing (chronic) illnesses like asthma or heart disease.

Ask your provider to advise additional sources of information if you want to know more about your condition. Libraries, valid online sites, support groups, and associations can be helpful. Be aware that advice given on some health-related websites and chat rooms may not be true.

If you have a serious condition, ask if there are other treatment options besides the one your healthcare provider advises.

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

This information may include clear, simple explanations of:

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

  • The purpose, expected success, and side effects of treatments

  • Any medical advice or words you don't understand

Learn about your medicines

One of your healthcare provider's main roles is to prescribe and check your medicine 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 medicine, herb, or supplement:

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

  • How often you should take it

  • Any medicines, foods, or drinks to stay away from when taking it

  • Its possible side effects

  • What you should do if you forget a dose

Medical Reviewers:

  • Heather M Trevino BSN RNC
  • Marianne Fraser MSN RN
  • Susan K. Dempsey-Walls RN