Be Your Own Healthcare Advocate

Talk With Your Doc: Simple Steps to be Involved

Health care appointments are usually shorter than we might like, but there are ways to make the most of every visit. You, your health care providers (the doctors, nurses, therapists, clinicians) and other members of the health care team can come away from each visit feeling more satisfied by following some simple steps.

There are two basic ways to make the most of your visit. First, come prepared. My HealtheVet ( makes this easier. Before your visit, check your prescription records online. Let your health care team know if there are changes to your medications, or in the way that you have been taking them. You can also review notes from previous visits with your health care team and recent lab test results. These are easily found in your VA Blue Button report on My HealtheVet at

Second, at your visit, speak up and actually talk with your health care team as your partners. They are here to help you with your health and care. This means that you need to be involved in your health care and can do things to make your visits more productive. For example, much of the information needed to make a diagnosis is based on your description of symptoms, recent changes, and your health history. Be sure to share this information with your health care team during your visit. Download and print out your VA Blue Button report from My HealtheVet and take it with you to your appointment. You can use it as a reference. Make sure your information is up-to-date.

Here are some suggestions that can help:

Be sure to bring all the medications you are taking in their original labeled containers, including any over-the-counter medicines or herbal products, or at least have a list of your medications and supplements written down. Be prepared to describe exactly when, how, and how often you take each of these, and any side effects you have noticed.

Be prepared to address pain accurately and think about what your pain is when your pain is at its worst,  because what you say will be noted in your permanent record. Be honest and do not downplay your pain, because you are feeling good today. Same goes for your mental health concerns. Paint a clear picture of a bad day, so it will be accurately recorded in your medical record.

The Cycle of Care and My HealtheVet

Bring a written list of changes in your health and questions you may have. Include symptoms, interruptions in daily functioning, and any medical history or other information you think might be helpful for your health care provider to know. It is easy to forget what you want to say and ask once you are in your appointment, so it is helpful to write it down so you will remember to address each concern or question.

Bring a written list of your questions. Common questions include:

What is wrong with me?

What is the cause, or why is this happening to me?

What treatments will help me?

What will the treatments be like?

What can I expect to happen to me?

What do you recommend I do?

Where can I get help if I need it?

Bring pen and paper so you can write down the answers to your questions. It is also helpful to repeat, or rephrase the answer to ensure you understand your healthcare provider correctly.

You may want to bring a friend or family member with you to help you remember the answers to your questions or other details of the visit. It is also helpful to have a witness in your appointments. A witness can also give you their honest opinion when something doesn’t seem quite right, or make sense to you.

Talking with Your Health Care Provider

Speak up! Do not be afraid to ask questions of your provider or others on your health care team. They are there to help you and they appreciate you being involved in your care.

Tell your healthcare provider right up front what you want to get done at this visit.

Bring a written list.

Early in your visit, describe any pain, symptoms, or side-effects you have been having on a bad day, not just when you are feeling fine.

Talk about your concerns and worries you have about your health. Don’t wait until the end of the visit to mention important concerns or symptoms.

Tell the truth, even if it is embarrassing. Your health care team needs to know the full picture, not just a look at a good day! Describe a bad day without being ashamed, or concerned about what the provider might think of you. Tell your provider about any personal concerns like sexual problems or trouble controlling your bladder or bowels. Your health care team understands those things and is there to help.

Be clear and to the point; avoid extra chatter about things not related to your health and care that can use up the valuable time.

Be sure to ask questions. If you have trouble understanding what members of your health care team says, ask for a simpler explanation, to speak more slowly, speak louder or softer, draw a picture, or whatever else would help you understand. If you cannot understand someone with an accent, ask to have a nurse sit in on the conversation to explain what is being said.

Ask about your treatment or care plan so you understand it, know what to expect, and what the next steps are.

Ask for written instructions and/or information if it is available.

Being actively involved in your health care in all these ways helps you and your health care provider and team act as partners. They are all working together to improve your health and keep you healthy. Your health may be your most valuable asset, so be sure to protect it. You are worth it!