How to Work with Your Doctor

By Temma Ehrenfeld @temmaehrenfeld
April 27, 2022
03 Apr 2014 --- Doctor with digital tablet talking to patient --- Image by © Mareen Fischinger/Westend61/Corbis

Your doctor is no longer your healthcare director. In today’s healthcare world, you and your doctor are teammates. Here’s how you can work with your doctor.

For the most part, your doctor is no longer your care director; today your doctor is more like your teammate in a relationship of communication, a partner to help you make the best healthcare decisions for you.

Before your visit, always write down any questions (and anything you’ve observed about yourself that might relevant).


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Be clear about your agenda for the visit

Take a list of questions to your appointment. Sometimes your doctor’s focus may switch to a different issue, which may be more important. But it’s easy to forget why you came in, and you’ll be left with unanswered questions.

Always bring a list of medications you’re taking. The list should include over-the-counter medications and supplements you may be taking. Also bring in paperwork from any other doctors or hospitals that might be important.

During the visit, make sure to ask the questions you wrote down beforehand. Your doctor won’t be put off by your questions. Your questions may make your doctor’s job easier.

Write down your doctor’s answers. You can also take a caregiver, family member, or friend with you to help ask questions and keep track of answers.

If your doctor prescribes a specific treatment, test, or procedure

Always ask why and what the doctor’s goal is. Make sure the test, procedure, or treatment is necessary.

Possible questions include:

  • Will I get better without treatment?
  • Do I have other choices for treatment?
  • What does this drug do? How should I use it? How long should I use it?
  • What are the benefits and side effects of this treatment or drug?
  • What can I do to avoid side effects?
  • Can I take this medicine with the other drugs?
  • When should I stop taking this drug?
  • What happens if I forget to take this medicine?
  • What else can I do to get better?

Make sure you understand everything your doctor tells you. If you don’t, ask the doctor to explain something until you do understand. Don’t assume the result of research for a specific treatment will help you. Some medications help some people while not helping others. Some treatments are meant for high-risk people but not for low-risk people.

A doctor who is good at helping patients make decisions will use the best research available, share that evidence with you, and help you understand it, while encouraging you to say what matters to you. Your doctor wants to help you; it’s in your doctor’s interest to help you with your health problem because you’ll continue to be a patient after you get better.

You’re in charge

Remember that you can always ask your doctor to suggest another doctor who can give you a second opinion. Don’t be worried; your doctor shouldn’t be offended that you’re trying to get the best care for you. If your doctor is offended, you need to find a new doctor.

If your doctor sends you to a specialist

A specialist referral will often be to someone your doctor knows. You’ll need to find out if that specialist is in your network before scheduling a visit. If the specialist is outside your network, you’ll need to discuss this with your doctor. Seeing an out-of-network specialist may cost you more money, depending on your health insurance coverage.

You can find a list of specialists in your network and send it to your doctor’s office. Your doctor’s office can find out from your insurance company if you need prior authorization to see the specialist or have a test or procedure.

Keeping records

You may be able to help your doctor if you sign up for an electronic health record (EHR), to store all of your medical information, including:

  • Your medical history
  • Your family medical history
  • A history of your medications, lab and other test results, procedures, or surgeries
  • Any health data you may be tracking (particularly if you have a chronic disease like diabetes or heart problems)

If you have a smartphone connected to your EHR, all the better. Make sure your doctor has access to your EHR, to add any new information to your medical records.

In most cases, you can affiliate with a hospital near you and share your EHR with your healthcare team there. Having healthcare providers who know you and your medical history helps you get better care.

Be your own best advocate

You play a huge role in helping your doctor help you. That means it’s important to follow your doctor’s instructions and suggestions.

If your doctor suggests you’ll be healthier if you quit smoking, lose weight, start eating better, and exercise, have an open conversation about what you need to make this happen. Many people need specific guidance and sometimes support groups to change old bad habits. If you nod “Yes,” knowing you won’t follow through, you’ll have gotten nowhere.

If your doctor gives you medicine to take at certain times for a certain length of time (or until further notice), it’s important for you to do what the doctor asks.

If you can’t do what your doctor suggests, or change your mind about what you need, it’s time for another visit. Explain what’s happening. Your doctor can suggest alternatives that can help you reach your health goal. Never be too embarrassed to ask your doctor a question, or let your doctor know what’s on your mind.

Taking an active role in your healthcare puts the responsibility of your health on both you and your doctor. That’s a good thing: Think two heads are better than one.


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April 27, 2022

Reviewed By:  

Christopher Nystuen, MD, MBA and Janet O'Dell, RN