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Today, more than ever, good health care is the responsibility of both professionals - doctors, nurses, pharmacists - and consumers.

Today's consumers must be active participants in managing their health care, says the National Consumers League. And one of the best ways to do that, advises the consumer education group, is to ask questions. Here are tips that will help you ask the right questions:Before you go to the doctor, ask yourself . . .

- Do I have all the information I need about my medical history - any hospitalizations, surgery, allergies - and family history?

- How do I feel? When did I start feeling that way? And what has happened since?

- What medications (including over-the-counter products) am I taking? What medications am I taking that have been prescribed by another doctor?

- What are the most important questions I want my doctor to answer?

It's not a bad idea to write down everything, especially your symptoms. That way you won't come home and remember something else you should have mentioned.

Be prepared to tell your doctor everything about how you feel, emotionally as well as physically, and about all the medications you take. If you are pregnant or trying to become pregnant, be sure your

doctor knows that.

If you expect to have an X-ray, take your annual X-ray record with you. You might not need to have another one.

Take along the name, address and policy number of your insurance carrier and the names and addresses of other doctors to whom any reports about your health should be sent.When you go, ask the doctor . . .

- What is wrong with me and how long will I feel this way? Are there any uncertainties, and what should I know about them?

- What kind of treatment is recommended? How will it make me feel? Are there alternatives to the treatment suggested?

- Why have you asked for some tests to be performed? Will there be pain, discomfort or inconvenience with the tests? Are there any risks?

One of the most important things to remember when talking with your physician is to be honest and thorough. Don't expect your doctor to read your mind and don't be afraid to ask questions. And pay attention to what you are told. Take along a note pad. Listening is as important for the patient as the doctor. If a medical term is used that you don't understand, ask what it means.If a medicine is prescribed, ask . . .

- What is the name of the medicine?

- How long should I take it?

- How will it make me feel?

- Are there any side effects?

- Should I call you about the side effects?

- Are there other medicines that might not give me side effects?

- Should I avoid any foods, beverages or other medications?

- When should I take the medicine? Does "four times a day" mean specific times? Do I have to get up in the middle of the night?

- What happens if I forget to take my medicine? Should I double the dose the next time I take it?

- Are there any activities I should avoid when taking the medicine?

If you don't intend to follow directions or take the medication prescribed, tell your doctor. If instructions are unrealistic, discuss the problem. Don't feel embarrassed to ask questions. Doctors are used to dealing with very intimate problems.When you have your prescription filled, ask the pharmacist . . .

- What is the name of the medicine?

- How should I take it and when?

- Should I expect any side effects or problems?

- What should I do if I experience side effects?

- How long should I take it? (Remember, even if you feel better, it is important that you don't stop taking the medicine on your own.)

- Can I get a refill? When should I get the refill?

- What foods or other medications can I take or not take with the medicine?

- Can I drive or operate machinery after taking it?

- Is there a leaflet I can take home that describes this medicine?

- What about taking alcohol with this medication?

- Should I store this in a special place?

Your pharmacist can help you understand all the medicines you take - whether you choose an over-the-counter product or one that has been prescribed by a physician. Many pharmacists will keep a record of all your medications. If you find it difficult to open childproof containers, ask for easy-open caps.Ask your employer or insurer . . .

- Do I have the right to go to any doctor I choose?

- Can I go to any hospital or clinic I want to?

- Does the plan cover home care or nursing home care?

- Can I go to my favorite or most convenient pharmacy?

- What is the deductible? (What do I have to pay before the insurance company pays?)

- Are there any co-payments? (Sharing of costs by you and the plan.)

- Am I covered when I travel abroad?

- Are specialists, including dentists, osteopaths, chiropractors and acupuncturists, covered?

- Does the plan cover all medications my physician may prescribe?

- Are there any limitations or restrictions on what medicines are prescribed or what treatments are ordered?

If your plan is a health maintenance organization (HMO) or other "managed care" plan, ask additional questions:

- Is there a formulary (a restricted list of medicines from which a physician may choose and for which the program will pay)?

- Do I have the freedom to choose the medicine that is best for me?

- Can my doctor prescribe the medication that is best for me?

- Does the plan require therapeutic substitutions (different medicines that have the same effect on the patient)?

- Does the plan require generic substitutions (a different manufacturers' version of the same medicine)?

- Does the plan ensure that any substitutions are made only with the permission of my doctor?

- Does the plan have a maximum limit on the number of prescriptions that can be covered in a month?

It is important to know what costs and services are provided under your health-care plan. Sometimes you must wait a certain period of time before using some of the benefits in a new plan. Or sometimes there is a dollar limit on the amount you can claim for one year. Talk over any limitations with your employer.

The federal government does not regulate insurance; your state insurance department can answer questions about what companies practice here and how to compare policies and plans if you are purchasing insurance.After you get home . . .

- Go over in your mind the treatment your doctor has prescribed. Make sure you put your notes from the doctor and pharmacist in a place where you can refer back to them.

- Store your medicine out of reach of children or anyone who may confuse it with another prescription. Don't mix several medications in the same container. Keep it in a cool, dry location (your medicine cabinet may be a poor choice if it is in a damp bathroom).

- Follow your doctor's orders.

- Read over any written information that the pharmacist or doctor gave you. Call if you have questions.

- If you experience any side effects, ask yourself whether they are those the doctor or pharmacist said to expect.

- Remember when to take your medicine. Plan your medicine and treatment schedule.