Among the most important decisions you can make affecting your health is who is going to be your primary care physician and how you can best interact with him or her. Depending on the stage of your life, this can vary from a family physician, obstetrician/gynecologist, pediatrician, internist or geriatrician. Having someone whom you trust and who knows you is as important as caring for yourself by exercising and following good preventive practices.

What makes for a good relationship between a patient and a physician?

The most important factors are communication, consideration, and collaboration in answering the following three concerns with each health care issue: "What do I have, what can I do about this problem, and what is going to happen to me?" These critical questions should be addressed and answered, if possible, during each encounter.

Typically, a physician has several methods for making a diagnosis. The first and most important is the patient's medical history, followed by a thorough physical examination, lab and/or radiology test results, and a trial of medicines. Rarely, watchful waiting is needed if all else is inconclusive. Clearly, a patient's understanding of his or her medical history, and being able to share this information with the physician is the most important starting point.

Currently, most patient and physician encounters are limited by time. This reality makes rapid, cogent understanding even more important. Being prepared with a list of symptoms, questions, or an outline of recent events before a visit can help tremendously. Having a brief, pertinent, written record to follow is similar to having an agenda for a meeting—both make for better value. Life is an open book test and certainly everyone involved in the process of health care wants every episode to go well.

The information age, with its easy access to data on the internet, has enhanced the opportunity to improve care. Previously, physicians had the majority of knowledge about illness. Currently, about 75 percent of all patients are on the internet at some time during a health care encounter, in order to find a physician, understand a diagnosis, or research a treatment. The concept of sharing information between patient and physician is relatively new; nevertheless it can be very effective when done collaboratively.

All of the above add value to your health care. However, they also involve an investment. Understanding your own medical history, sharing this with your physician without wasting time, and using other sources to obtain information add up to a better outcome for you as a patient.

Being an active participant does make a difference in your health. Remember: good health is not a spectator sport.