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Make the Most of Your Health Care Visit

We’d like to believe that doctors are miracle workers who can take one look at us and solve our health problems magically, but that isn’t how it works. In real life, health care works best when we are active and involved partners working together with our health care providers to bring our health back into balance. When you become ill or injured, you may feel helpless and utterly dependent. But, in reality, you are a powerful and important part of your healing. 

Improve your chances of successful treatment and recovery by making these small changes that will have a big effect on your partnership with your doctor.


Ask your questions

Most people have questions about their condition or treatment plan. Health care can be a confusing world. If you didn’t have the benefit of four years of medical school (or even if you did!), there will likely be things you don’t understand.

According to the National Patient Safety Foundation’s Ask Me 3 program, there are three important questions you should have answered before you leave the doctor’s office:

1. What is my main problem?
2. What do I need to do?
3. Why is it important for me to do this?  

Don’t be afraid to ask your doctor to explain the answers if you don’t understand them. Health care providers speak a whole different language and sometimes they forget to answer in plain English. A friend of mine was once at the pediatrician with her 8-year-old daughter to check for asthma. The doctor asked my friend a question about “expiration” when her daughter jumped in and said, “I don’t know what that means.” The doctor explained that it means “breathing out,” and the appointment went on from there.

Sometimes people don’t ask a questions because they don’t want to seem like they don’t understand, or want to make the doctor uncomfortable. But your health is worth it. Go ahead and ask the questions.

Tell the whole story

Tell your doctor all of your symptoms and your whole health history, even the things that you think may not be important or related to your current condition. Doctors are able to do a much better job of understanding you and finding out what might be going on if they know all the facts. The doctor is the expert on medical care, but you are the only expert on you. It’s important to bring all of your expertise into the exam room and share it with the doctor.   

Do your part, and share what might get in your way 

You are not alone if you think (or hope) that a doctor will be able to solve all of your health problems magically with no work or effort on your part. But it’s just a fantasy. In real life, you know that there’s only one person who can do the things that must be done if you are to get better: you. 

Take your medicines and follow the instructions. Adjust your diet and increase your daily activity. Follow up with the doctor in six weeks. Whatever it is, once you and your doctor agree on a treatment plan, be sure to do your part.

Sometimes there are things that make it hard or impossible for you to do your part. Maybe you can’t afford the medicine. Maybe you don’t know what kinds of activity are safe for you. Maybe you don’t understand what you’re supposed to do. Share these concerns with your doctor so you can solve the problems together.

Remember: it’s about your health, not about pleasing the doctor

Doctors are often seen as authority figures, and it can be easy to get caught up in trying to please them so they approve of you and like you. As a result, sometimes people don’t speak up when they should, or they keep information from the doctor that they think the doctor wouldn’t approve of. The best way to show respect to your doctor is to work together on the same team for the good of your health. 

If you’d like to learn more about advance directives or get help filling out or updating yours, you can contact the MaineHealth Learning Resource Center’s health educators at   

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