Ask a lot of questions. Don’t worry about seeming ignorant; you have the right to understand your own health care process.

Get informed. Be knowledgeable about alternative health care options by researching online (see the resources box).

Try teaching back. When meeting with a doctor or other health care provider, tell that person what you’ve learned. Say something like, “I want to make sure I’m clear on this,” and then repeat what you think the doctor has said. This will help your health care provider discover what else he or she needs to tell you.

Find a friend. If a one-on-one patient advocate isn’t available in your area, ask a friend, a sibling, a parent, or an adult child to come with you to medical appointments. This person can take notes and be an observer on your behalf.

Be alert. In the hospital, every time someone comes to give you medication, ask what the medication is and why it’s being given. Also insist that staffers check your armband before they give you any tests or medications.

—K.L.

Sources: Joyce Fama, patient advocate; Terry Davis, MD, PhD, head of the behavior sciences unit at Louisiana State University in Shreveport.