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It Takes Two to Tango: Become an Active Partner in Your Health Care

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(from the National Women's Health Resource Center's e-newsletter, HealthyWomen Take 10)

You're sitting on the cold table in the medical examining room. You've been staring at the walls for what seems like eons. Finally, your health care professional enters, flips open your chart, asks some "yes or no" questions, examines you quickly, writes a few notes and is gone again. You get dressed and leave.

You and your medical professional (doctor, nurse-practitioner or nurse) have just missed an important opportunity to safeguard and improve your health. Because the two of you are partners in your care, or should be, you both need to participate actively in that relationship.

That means talking - and listening - back and forth, sharing information and decision-making. Good communications between patients and professionals have been shown to result in better health outcomes, greater trust and more commitment to treatment that works.

"What we have is a conversation, an activity that requires cooperation and coordination, like touch dancing," says Richard L. Street, Jr., PhD, professor and head, Department of Communication, Texas A&M University. "Because this is a conversation, the patient is a person who can exert a great deal of control over what happens."

Smoothing the way

Some medical encounters don't feel like coordinated partnerships. Communication may be blocked by barriers such as cultural differences, medical jargon that's difficult to understand or personality conflicts.

Scheduling pressures also work against efforts to connect. "Sometimes time is our mutual enemy," says Judith Chamberlain, MD, FAAFP, board member of the American Academy of Family Physicians, who practices in Brunswick, ME. "We often do not have the luxury to spend a long time getting to know each other before having to deal with sensitive issues."

When you have a choice, the right health care professional can boost your chances of success. That means shopping for one with at least the same amount of effort you put into buying a major appliance.

"Find a provider that you're comfortable with, that's the first thing.

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.