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Introduction to Making the Most of Health Care

by Michael R. Wasserman, MD

Gone are the days when people can rely solely on their family doctor with the help of a nurse to take charge of their health care. To obtain the best health care today, people must participate actively in the process. Active participation means many things:

  • Learning about health care issues (including how care can be paid for—see Overview of Health Care Financing)

  • Visiting a health care practitioner regularly

  • Communicating effectively with health care practitioners

  • Obtaining appropriate preventive care (see Overview of Preventive Care)

  • Remaining watchful for signs of ill health or bodily changes (such as a change in the color of a mole or detection of a lump in a breast or testis)

  • Keeping a record of personal medical information

  • Creating an advanced directive (see Advance Directives), including healthcare power of attorney or preferences regarding organ donation, and making it available in case of emergency

For people with a specific disorder, active participation also means monitoring their health. For example, people with hypertension regularly measure their blood pressure, and people with diabetes regularly measure their blood sugar level.

Good communication—open, honest sharing of information—with health care practitioners is crucial because it can mean better health. With good communication, practitioners better understand the problems a person is having and the person better understands how problems should be treated. It also fosters trust and confidence between the practitioner and the person, making the person more likely to follow the treatment regimen. Information on the Internet (see Researching a Disorder), if it is reliable, can help people learn about their health and conditions in ways that can enhance their relationship with their practitioner.