How to Be a Good Patient: Advocate for Yourself


Amy Rushlow

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Think of your healthcare team like a football team. Just like running backs and kickers have specific roles and skills, so do the doctors and specialists you work with. And you? You’re the team captain! You have a lot of help managing your health, but ultimately, the decisions are up to you. 

Taking charge of your healthcare can improve the quality of care that you receive. Read on to learn insider tricks for choosing the right doctor, keeping track of important information, and more. 

Make the Right Match

When you’re honest with your doctor and feel comfortable talking with him or her about your health, you receive better care. So it’s important to choose the right healthcare team for you, starting with your primary care provider. Here are some things to think about as you’re looking for a doctor:

  • Do you feel more comfortable talking with a male or female doctor about sensitive health issues?

  • Do you prefer someone warm and casual or someone with a more business-like demeanor?

  • What qualifications are important to you? Does it matter to you if your doctor attended a top-ranked school or has many years of experience?

Consider your first visit with a new doctor a trial visit. After your initial appointment, ask yourself these questions:

  • Did you feel at ease asking questions? Did the doctor reply in a way that you could understand?

  • Did you feel like he or she really listened to your concerns and your feedback?

  • Did you feel respected?

  • Did you feel rushed?

If you weren’t satisfied with the visit, try another doctor. It will be worth it over the long run.

Know Where to Go

If you’re choosing between hospitals, start your search at Our reports on clinical quality identify hospitals that achieve superior results in care areas and specific conditions and procedures. Knowing this information before you need care can improve your chances for the best outcome possible. 

Other good resources:

  • The government’s Hospital Compare website,, grades hospitals based on how well they follow certain treatment guidelines.

  • The Joint Commission,, evaluates hospitals for quality standards.

Ask Questions

When you’re at an appointment, don’t be afraid to speak up. Asking questions improves the quality of care you receive. It also helps you follow your treatment plan the right way when you get home. It can help to write out a list of questions ahead of time. You may want to ask:

  • I’m sorry, I don’t quite understand—can you explain that again?

  • What is this test for?

  • What lifestyle changes can I make that will help my health?

  • Why do I need this treatment?

  • Is this the best possible treatment? Is there anything better than the current treatment?

Ask About Medications, Too

It’s easy to think, “doctor knows best” when he or she tells you to take a medication. But don’t be afraid to ask questions. Talking with your doctor about your options will help you get the best medication for you. Before you take a new drug, ask about its side effects, how to take it, and why you need it. For example, you could say, “How will this drug help me?” Your pharmacist is another great resource.

Get a Second Opinion

If you’re not sure about your diagnosis or treatment, you might want a second opinion from another doctor. A second opinion allows you to explore all your treatment options. Don’t worry that your doctor will be offended. Most doctors don’t mind second opinions.

Know that you are your own best health advocate. Don’t be afraid to speak up about your concerns and needs.

Couple with doctor

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Medical Reviewers: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Review Date: Sep 17, 2016

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Medical References

  1. Be an active member of your health care team. U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
  2. Choosing a doctor. National Institute on Aging, National Institutes of Health.
  3. Choosing a doctor and hospital. American Cancer Society.
  4. Getting a second opinion before surgery. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
  5. Hospital compare. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
  6. Do your homework before you choose a hospital. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.
  7. Questions to ask your doctor. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.