To get the best care from your doctor, you need to play an active role in health care decisions. This means asking plenty of questions, doing your own research, getting second opinions, and keeping in mind that you have the right to accept or refuse treatment. Here are some tips:

If your doctor gives you a diagnosis:

  • Ask for all of the treatment options, and the benefits and risks of each.
  • Ask your doctor if they can recommend published literature about the condition.
  • Find out as much as you can about you can about your condition on your own. Some resources:
    • the Internet
    • your local library
    • support groups
    • Find out if your insurance will pay for a second opinion. (Medicare covers a second opinion before surgery, and will pay for a third if the first and second opinions are different.)

If your doctor prescribes a medication, find out:

  • Will my insurance cover the prescribed drug? If not, are there other drugs that will work for me?
  • What is the medicine for (what is it intended to treat)?
  • What will it do for me?
  • What are the benefits and risks?
  • When should I start to feel better?
  • Are there any side effects I should be aware of? Are any of them serious enough that I should contact the doctor about them immediately?
  • Could the medication interact poorly with other medications (including over-the-counter drugs) I take?
  • If it is a name brand medication, is there a generic option?
  • Are there other drug options?
  • Could a change in diet or special exercise have the same effect as the medication, or increase its effectiveness?
  • What happens if I decide not to take the medication?

If your doctor recommends surgery, find out:

  • Why is the surgical procedure necessary?
  • What are the benefits and risks?
  • What are the alternatives (such as medication, or a change in diet or exercise)?
  • What if I decide not to have surgery?

    Then: Get a second opinion. Medicare covers a second opinion before surgery, and will pay for a third if the first and second opinions are different.

Other tips:

  • Keep records. Keep track of your doctors’ visits and keep notes on what you were told at each.
  • If you have advance directives (documents that state what kind of care you want to receive if you can no longer communicate your wishes, such as a health care proxy, living will or do-not-resuscitate order), make sure your doctor has copies and agrees to abide by them.

If you think your doctor is trying to pressure you into unnecessary services, charging an unusually high amount, or billing Medicare for services you never received, they may be committing fraud.