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How to Get the Most from Your Care: A Guide for Being a Proactive Patient

Everyone wants the best medical care possible. This involves more than scheduling a doctor’s appointment. A proactive patient is an informed one who finds a good doctor and medical facility, does independent research using reliable sources, and asks detailed, relevant questions. Each of us is ultimately in charge of our own health. The following are some tips for becoming a more proactive patient.

Click here for the Proactive Patient Checklist.

  • This is a printable guide you can use as a reference and a questions checklist to bring with you to your doctor’s appointment(s).

Find a good doctor and medical facility

As in every profession, there are doctors who excel in their specialty, doctors who perform average work, and doctors whose skills are less than desirable. Finding the best takes some effort on the part of the patient.

  • Get a recommendation from a friend, family member, healthcare professional, or neighbor. Many times, patients need to see physicians who participate in their health insurance’s "network" of doctors. In this case, asking a co-worker who carries the same insurance can be a good approach. However, asking your general practitioner or another doctor or healthcare professional is often the best way to find experts in a particular field. Healthcare professionals network at medical conferences and other events and almost always know who "the top performers" are.
  • Do a background check. Once a doctor has been identified, visit the American Medical Association’s (AMA) Web site and perform a search. The AMA is the largest medical society in the United States. Its Web site provides useful information on 650,000 member and nonmember doctors of medicine (MD) and doctors of osteopathy or osteopathic medicine (DO). Note that it does not include other licensed healthcare professionals such as dentists, optometrists, chiropractors, nurses, or allied health personnel. Use the website to learn or verify a doctor’s credentials, including specialty, where and when he/she attended medical or professional school, and whether the doctor is board-certified. Medical specialty boards determine whether candidates have received sufficient preparation in accordance with established educational standards, provide comprehensive examinations designed to assess knowledge, skills, and experience requisite to the provision of high quality patient care in that specialty, and certify those candidates who have satisfied the requirements. Many boards require recertification at periodic intervals.
  • All doctors must be licensed. Licensure requires medical school plus a minimum of one year of internship. Board certification comes from a specialty board usually after a minimum of three years post graduate residency training. Many doctors are NOT board certified. Board certification is a minimum standard, and patients seeking the best care should always see a board certified physician whenever possible. Fellowship training is a level beyond basic residency training and usually implies expertise in a particular subspecialty field within a more general specialty.
  • Ask questions. Call the doctor’s office and ask about the doctor’s patient load, how long it generally takes to get an appointment, the average wait time at the office, etc. If health insurance is a concern, always verify that the doctor accepts a particular insurance prior to scheduling an appointment.


  • Consider the medical facility. If treatment requires time in a hospital or medical facility, it’s important to research the facility as well. A doctor may be affiliated with or located in a hospital or other type of treatment facility. Some doctors treat patients in multiple hospitals. Ask the doctor for a recommendation of the best facility in the area for the specialty. The Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations advises choosing a facility that performs a large number of the procedure(s) the patients will need. According to the American Cancer Society, hospitals with at least 500 beds typically offer more services. The best hospitals offer pathology labs, diagnostic labs, and blood banks; round-the-clock physician staffing; social work services; advanced diagnostic and therapeutic equipment; and an intensive care unit. Teaching hospitals are often affiliated with reputable medical facilities. Before leaving a hospital or treatment facility, it is important to ask about follow-up care.