Taking an active role in your healthcare
Tips for taking more control
4 October 2023
When it comes to your health and any conditions you’re managing, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the amount of information you need to take in. But while it can be confusing at times, it’s important to take an active role in your healthcare, which means understanding your condition and treatment, and choosing to be included in all decision-making, planning and goal setting. Actively participating in your healthcare will help you to make informed decisions and be better prepared to manage your condition, which in turn can mean improved health and wellbeing in the long run.
Partnerships to improve your health
When you have a health issue, the first port of call will usually be your GP, dentist or practice nurse, or an allied health professional like a physio, chiro or audiologist. Their role is to work with you to deal with any concerns and help you stay (or become) as healthy as you can be. Having a trusted healthcare partner who you can communicate openly with will enable you to gain a deeper understanding of the issues, share the decision-making and make a health plan together.
The importance of good communication
The best possible health outcomes rely on honest, open and effective two-way communication between you and your healthcare professional. This includes understanding everything they say about your condition or treatment, including information about the condition itself, the treatment options, prognosis, potential side-effects and costs. So it’s vital that you feel confident to ask any questions to seek clarification or get more information.
Finding the right healthcare professional
Different people want different things from their GP and healthcare professionals, so it’s important to find the right one to suit your and your family’s needs. Forming open and trusting relationships with your healthcare professionals helps to ensure you receive consistent, quality and safe healthcare. Consider recommendations from family and friends and think about issues such as location and opening hours, billing and rapport. It’s also good to be prepared for when you can’t access your regular GP or healthcare services. The National Health Services Directory (NHSD) can help you find a GP, pharmacy, emergency department, hospital and other services – either online or face to face – 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Visiting your healthcare professionals
So now we know the importance of taking an active role in your own healthcare, how can we put it into practice?
1. Be open and honest. If your healthcare professional isn’t familiar with your medical history, let them know about any medications you’re taking (including over-the-counter medications, home remedies, vitamins and supplements), any prior illnesses or recent medical appointments or treatments. It’s also important to talk about any lifestyle habits, such as smoking, diet and physical activity or family history that might be relevant to your visit. Be as specific (and honest!) as you can about any symptoms you’re experiencing or concerns you have about your health. Don’t be shy, remember they deal with these kinds of issues every day!
2. Write down a list of questions before you see your healthcare professional – about test results, diagnosis, treatment plans and medications. Ask questions like: Do I really need this test/treatment/procedure? What are the risks? Are there simpler and/or safer options? What happens if I don’t do anything? What are the costs? And don’t be afraid to ask questions you might feel embarrassed about – remember it’s the role of your healthcare professional to explain them so you understand them fully.
3. Book a longer appointment if you have lots of things you want to discuss, so you don’t feel rushed. Tell your healthcare professional if you need more time or want a subsequent appointment. Ask them how much time you have before you need to make a decision about a particular issue. And remember it’s fine (and sometimes wise) to get a second opinion if you’re unsure about a course of action (especially if the health condition is a more serious one).
4. Ask questions about your medication – what it’s for, dosage and alternatives. If your healthcare professional recommends a course of treatment that you’re not comfortable with, ask about other options and an explanation of the pros and cons of each, so you can make an informed decision. If you start taking a medication, don’t stop or change treatment without speaking to them first.
5. Make sure you’re clear about next steps before leaving the appointment. If you’re unsure about what you need to do, then ask your healthcare professional to repeat the information. It’s a good idea to take notes or take a friend or family member with you to help you remember. You can also ask for printouts to take home with you or suggestions of where to go for more information. Don’t forget to ask how you can prepare for your next appointment.
6. Remember your pharmacist – pharmacists are highly trained and are a useful part of your healthcare team. As well as supplying medicines, pharmacists are a great source of health information and can support you and your family in lots of ways, including answering questions about medicines you’ve been prescribed, giving healthcare advice, and offering health checks and risk assessments. You can also ask your pharmacist about a MedsCheck to discuss the medicines you’re using.
Understand the costs
To help avoid unexpected bills, ask your healthcare professionals about their charges and Medicare rebates before your appointment. This includes being aware of things like Mental Health Treatment Plans and Chronic Disease Management plans, which can improve outcomes and help with costs. And don’t forget to check your Hospital and Extras cover to see what you’re covered for.
Read more about making better choices for your health and budget.