Nothing is more important than your health. You’ll spend hours shopping for the right outfit. Shouldn’t you be as careful when you’re shopping for your health? Few things are quite as frustrating as going to a doctor and leaving feeling like you are no better off than when you went in. Certainly some situations are complex and can’t be addressed in a single visit but there are things you can do to up the odds of a satisfying visit.

The first step is to choose the doctor carefully. The doctor/patient relationship is based on trust so you want to find someone you are comfortable with. Things to consider when looking for a provider are:

• Does this person work with your insurance plan?

• Does the provider treat the issues you need help with?

• Do they speak your language?

• Is the provider a person you can talk to openly and honestly?

• Is the staff friendly and welcoming?

• Can you easily get to their office?

Finding a provider will take some time and effort but there are lots of places to find information about different providers. First, call the insurance company. There’s a toll-free number on the insurance card for member services. Give them a call and ask for a list of doctors in your area. With this list in hand, find out as much as you can about each one. Talk to friends; search the internet; call the office and talk to the staff if you have specific concerns such as accessibility.

With all the information you can find at hand, weigh the pros and cons of each office, choose a doctor and schedule a visit.

The second step to a successful medical visit is to prepare. Make a written list of the symptoms you have concerns about. Be sure to note how long each symptom has been occurring and how severe you feel it is. Write down any questions you have. Review your list and make sure the most important symptoms and questions are at the top so you can discuss those first. If your appointment is for a test or procedure, you may have been given directions on how to prepare: Follow them closely. Call the office if you have any questions.

The last step is to attend the appointment. If for some reason you can’t go, let the office know at least 24 hours in advance or they may charge you a no-show fee that your insurance plan won’t cover. Plan to arrive 15 or 20 minutes early to allow for parking, finding the office and completing paperwork. Don’t forget your list.

Once you are in the doctor’s office, communication is the key. Be open and honest. The doctor can’t help if they don’t know what’s really happening. Make sure you understand what the doctor is saying to you. Sometimes doctors use “medical speak.” Ask questions. If the doctor gives you specific directions, write them down. Ask the doctor to review what you have written to be sure you got it right.

After the visit be sure to follow the plan that was made during the visit. Getting the most from a medical visit takes effort from both the doctor and the patient, and when it comes to health care, you are more than a patient, you are a consumer too.

Liz is a Coordinator of Special Programs with the Frederick County Health Department where she has specialized in the field of HIV care over the past six years. She holds a Master’s in Social Work.