Are you getting the best possible medical care? Probably not, unless you've taken steps to become an "empowered patient" - so you can stick up for your specific medical needs.
Here are the 10 key steps, from Patrick Malone, author of "The Life You Save: Nine Steps to Finding the Best Medical Care - and Avoiding the Worst."
Mistake: Being Eager to Try New Drugs
It's best to avoid new prescription drugs until they've been on the market for at least two years. If medically possible, wait seven years.
Tried-and-true generic drugs are often cheaper and safer.
Mistake: Going It Alone
Anyone sick enough to be in a doctor's office or a hospital bed deserves to be accompanied by an advocate. When we're sick, we don't communicate as well, we don't hear as well, and we don't think as well as usual.
A patient advocate, usually a family member or close friend, can become your eyes, ears, and a good part of your brain.
Mistake: Letting Someone Else Choose Your Surgeon
Choose a surgeon based upon his/her experience treating exactly the condition you have. Ask your primary care doctor, search the Internet, and quiz your family and friends. A good checklist has been put together by the World Health Organization.
Mistake: Neglecting Your Medical Records
Get a copy of every lab report, X-ray and specialist's report. Ask for these routinely, up front, when you're about to have the test done.
Laws governing your medical records vary from state to state, but the Georgetown University Center on Medical Record Rights and Privacy has compiled information about your rights to your medical records and how to get them.
Mistake: Being Too Trusting
Especially if you have a chronic disease, educate yourself and stay abreast of current developments so you can make informed decisions about your care.
The research is out there, on patients just like you, and it is not hard to find. Search the internet and you will find myriad support groups for almost every imaginable ailment.
Mistake: Letting Someone Else Choose Your Doctor
Match your care needs with the doctor's training and credentials, making sure he/she is board-certified. Search your doctor's status at the American Board of Medical Specialties website.
Mistake: Being Passive
Let this be your mantra each time you visit the doctor: Make a list, leave a list, take a list.
Make a list: write out your symptoms and concerns. Leave this list with the doctor so it becomes part of your file. Take notes while you talk to your doctor so that you're clear on the action plan.
Mistake: Not Getting a Second Opinion
If you get tested for something, it's important to understand that all medical tests are flawed. Always seek a second or third opinion. You don't want to be falsely alarmed - or falsely reassured.
Paradoxically, some of the most advanced and sensitive imaging tests are likely to yield false alarms.
Mistake: Discouraging Hospital Visitors
The most common injury-causing events in hospitals are falls, infections, bedsores, medication errors, and blood clots from immobility.
These incidents can be prevented, and having loved ones coming and going during your stay can help. Your advocates can insist that all health-care providers wash their hands and don new gloves in your presence, for example.