The Patient’s Role in Patient Care


When it comes to health care, many perceive doctors as having the final word when it comes to managing their patients’ care. Although doctors and other health professionals play a major role, each individual is ultimately responsible for getting the care they need.

First, patients should know or have a copy of their health history including prior hospitalizations and a list of current and past medical problems. Patients should think of their health as a story that needs to be told. In order to completely and accurately understand the story, doctors need every chapter, including whether current symptoms are new, or a continuation of prior symptoms. This is especially important if several doctors are currently being seen or if a patient is meeting a new one.

Keep in mind most health history is captured in records. Take the most current copies of test results, x-rays, labs or any other care that has been provided. While many medical offices have moved to file sharing or electronic file transfers, in some instances, patients may have to make copies and bring the files to the doctor themselves.

Next, be sure to have a list of all current medication - prescriptions, over-the-counter drugs, vitamins and herbal supplements, as well as the dosage. If necessary, just throw everything in a single bag and bring it to the appointment. This is also a good time to check for expired medication.

While compiling records and gathering medications, make a written list of the top three to five issues to be discussed with the doctor. Having a list helps patients stay on track during appointments and to addresses the most pressing concerns first. Preparing a list of issues to discuss also helps self-confidence when talking to the doctor. Last year, Health Affairs, a monthly health policy journal, published findings that “participants voiced a strong desire to engage in shared decision making about treatment options with their physicians.” However, the findings reported that many patients don’t speak up because they don’t want to question the doctor’s instructions, feel that their doctor is intimidating or because they don’t want to be labeled as a difficult patient. In any case, patients should remember it’s their health care. Be direct, honest and as specific as possible when recounting symptoms or expressing concerns. If that’s not possible, bring along a family member or friend to the appointment so they can help ask questions, listen to the doctor’s instructions or just offer support.

Lastly, it is important for patients to know and understand their TRICARE health care benefit; especially what it does and does not cover. They should know about their co-pays, cost-shares and deductibles, and where to find this information when they need it. Knowing this information helps when it’s time to make decisions about choosing a provider or specialist, getting important tests, and when planning preventive care. For more information, visit

Last Updated 10/1/2015