How to Speak with Your Healthcare Provider to Make Informed Healthcare Decisions

June 26, 2024

Visiting your doctor or other healthcare provider? Whether you’re seeing your provider in person or online, good communication between you and your provider is key to getting the most out of your visit. Maybe you already have a good relationship with your provider. Or maybe you want him or her to better understand your goals for care and treatment. Here are some tips to maximize your visit and make informed choices about your health.

Before Your Appointment
Make a list of questions and what you want to discuss. Before your appointment, make a list of any questions or concerns. Put them in order of what you want to discuss first. Write everything down so you can take full advantage of your visit. For example, do you have any new symptoms? Do you need any prescription refills? Do you need any shots? Your questions don’t have to be complex. Bring your list to your appointment.

Come prepared with a list of your medications. Make a list of all medications you take. Jot down the dose for each medication and when you take it each day. Also remember to include any vitamins and supplements you take.

Don’t forget other important details. Bring your insurance card and the names of other providers you see. Also bring any medical records, test results or X-rays that are related to your visit. Your provider may want to look at these to get a better picture of your health. You also may want to find out if a friend or family member can come with you to listen, take notes and ask questions.

During Your Visit
Take notes. Take notes when your provider answers your questions. This way you can remember what he or she said. Be sure to ask questions if you don’t understand something. If you don’t understand a medical word or instruction, ask what it means. Remember to ask for an interpreter if necessary. For tips on how to understand many medical words, click here. You can also find out how to pronounce many medical terms here.

Be sure you understand what was said and what the plan is. If your provider is prescribing a new medication, ordering a test or sending you to a specialist, be sure to ask why, what it involves, what the test results will help explain or decide and what to expect once the results are back.

Ask for information in writing. It’s important for you to get written instructions on your diagnosis and treatment plan from your provider. Many providers also use electronic health records to track and report patient health. Ask whether your records are available electronically and how to access them. This can help you track test results, future appointments, diagnoses and medications.

Make decisions with your provider. To get the best care, you and your healthcare provider should make decisions together. This process is called “shared decision making.” Your provider shares medical expertise, and you share what you want out of your care. Then you make a decision together.

Shared decision making is helpful when there is more than one way to treat your health problem. Your provider also may give you a “decision aid,” which is often a flyer, video or online tool that explains different choices and risks and benefits. Decision aids also help you think through your own choices and priorities. Then you and your provider can talk through the options and your questions.

Ask about costs of different treatments or choices. To help you plan your healthcare costs, it’s important to ask about the costs of different treatment options. FAIR Health’s Medical Cost Lookup Tool can help you estimate provider visit fees, lab test expenses and much more.

After Your Visit
Call your provider’s office if you have more questions. If you have additional questions after your visit, call your provider’s office to get answers. Also, don’t wait until you see your provider again if any new symptoms pop up or you’re not feeling great from a new medication your provider may have prescribed.

Follow up on test results and appointments. Contact your provider’s office to find out about your test results. Make any follow-up appointments with specialists your provider wants you to see.

More on Getting the Most Out of Your Visit
Glossaries. There are several valuable websites to help you understand basic healthcare terms. Check out FAIR Health’s glossary here. The Health Insurance Marketplace also offers a glossary defining a variety of healthcare words you may encounter when visiting your provider.

FH® Consumer Classroom App. For more information on the basics of health insurance on the go, try our free mobile app, FH Consumer Classroom. The app provides easy access to educational materials such as articles, videos, resource links, a glossary, a healthcare quality toolkit, newsletters and more. This information also is available on our website, You can download the app from the App Store or Google Play.