Doctor reviewing information with a patient

Many people don't think of the relationship with their doctor as an equal partnership working in the best interest of their health. Patients may be afraid to ask questions or feel like their doctor doesn't listen to them. But communicating clearly with your doctor is an important way to ensure better health.

According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, most patients' complaints about doctors deal with problems of communication, not with clinical competency. Several studies show a correlation between effective communication and improved health outcomes.

The good news is that there is increasing awareness that good doctor-patient communication is one of the key elements in successful health care. And you can help guide that communication.

Here are 10 things to consider next time you visit your doctor:

1. Be prepared. Bring a written list of questions with you. Do some research before your appointment to learn more about your treatment or condition.

2. Bring your health plan ID card and know your prescription benefits. This can help prevent surprises down the line. Some brand-name medications require prior authorization or only allow limited quantities in order to be covered.

3. Be complete and honest about your health. Pay attention to the location, duration and nature of your symptoms. The little things you think are unimportant or even embarrassing can often provide useful clues for your doctor. Your doctor needs the whole picture to determine the best possible treatment.

4. Be sure your doctor is aware of any medications you're taking. Besides prescription and over-the-counter medications, include any vitamins, supplements, or herbal remedies. Bring your medications and current prescription information to your doctor's appointment. Some medication combinations can counteract one another or have undesirable side effects.

5. Tell your doctor about any allergies or existing medical conditions. In order to best treat you, your doctor needs to know your family and personal health history, such as diabetes, high blood pressure or heart attack.

6. Don't be afraid to ask questions about your treatment or prescriptions. Ask your doctor why a treatment or medication is being prescribed, if there are any alternatives, how often and how long to take the medication and whether there are any side effects.

7. Talk to your doctor if you think you can't follow the recommendations or if they are unclear. Give your doctor a chance to address your questions. You can also talk to your pharmacist about medications.

8. Ask if there is a generic version of your medication. If there isn't one, ask if there is a cheaper brand-name drug available. This could save you money and help keep medical costs under control.

9. Ask about expected results. Ask questions such as: How soon before my symptoms will start to subside? When can I expect to feel fully recovered? Do I need to take steps to prevent a relapse? Will treatment have to be to be on-going?

10. Discuss how your lifestyle and habits are impacting your health. Ask your doctor if he or she can help you take the first steps to correct bad habits. Are you eating healthy foods? Taking a multivitamin? Getting enough sleep? Exercising? Do you smoke?

Being a more assertive, informed patient is a great step toward better health. While your doctor has medical knowledge and experience, you know your body better than anyone else. You can establish a partnership with your doctor to achieve the same goal: a long and healthy life.

Video: Patient focused care