5 Ways to Make the Most Informed Health Decisions

Everyone will have to make healthcare decisions at some point in their lives, either for themselves, their family members, or both. These decisions, while difficult at times, will influence everything from overall well being to the quality of care you or your family receive. Even the cost of care is impacted by your decisions. For these reasons, taking the time to make the best possible decision is paramount.

A patient listening to a diagnosis from her doctor
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What's more, people who work closely with their healthcare providers to make health decisions are happier with their care and the results they achieve. Consequently, it is important that you take an active part in every decision regarding your health. Being actively involved ensures that you get the care you want.

Overall, to make wise health decisions, you need to consider the following four principles:

  • The pros and cons of each option
  • The risks of each option
  • The cost of each option
  • Your personal preferences

Here's how to best address each principle thoroughly and make the best decision possible for you or for your family member.

Consider Your Options

When your healthcare provider suggests surgery, a new medication, a medical test or any other type of care, always ask why. What are your practitioner's treatment goals and what will happen if you choose not to follow his or her advice? Are there other options besides what he is recommending? What are the risks involved with the procedure or the side effects? Do the risks outweigh the benefits? How likely is it that this route will address the problem? What does each option cost?

Once you have asked all of your questions, tell your healthcare provider you need some time to think about your options. Schedule an appointment to meet again. Then do a little research of your own. Learn about each option by using resources available to you from the library, friends, and reliable websites. Just make sure the information you gather is based on sound medical research. Usually, a single study or facts published by a company that would benefit from you choosing their product are not helpful resources.

The key is to gather as much information as you can. It is not that you do not trust your healthcare provider, the goal is that you understand completely what his recommendation entails so you can make an informed decision. Keep in mind that most medicines have side effects, medical tests can give false results, and surgery almost always comes with some sort of risk. Considering all of your options will help you and your healthcare provider make the decision that is right for you.

Think About Your Values and Goals

Now that you are equipped with everything you need to know about your condition and your possible treatment options, it is time to consider what is important to you. How do you feel about the options you have been given? Is there one option that makes more sense to you than the other? Ideally, you want to base your decision on the option that is most likely to result in the outcome that aligns with your values and goals.

One way to narrow down your choice is to make a list of the pros and cons of each option. You may want to share this list with your healthcare provider to make sure you remembered everything correctly. He also can fill in additional information that you may not have on your list.

For many people faced with important health decisions, their goals and values are just as important as the medical facts. Determine what matters to you most and clearly identify your desired outcome. Doing so helps ensure that your decisions are based on your individual choices and not on someone else's objectives.

Keep in mind that it is normal for people to value things differently. So do not feel like you have to give in to family peer pressure when making a decision about your healthcare. You know what is right for you. Some people are willing to go through a very risky surgery if it will cure the issue while other people are more willing to put up with some pain if it means avoiding surgery. The key is to choose the option that best fits your goals. Remember, the key to any wise healthcare decision is to assess your values and goals versus the medical treatment options available and choose accordingly.

Test Drive Your Decision

Once you have made your choice, it helps to write down your expectations. Explain how you see your treatment progressing and what you anticipate the outcome being. Then, share this document with your healthcare provider. Ask him if your expectations are reasonable. He also can fill in any holes where there might be missing information. He can also correct any wrong assumptions.

Make sure you understand completely the side effects, pain, recovery time, cost, and long-term outcome of the choice you have made. Determine if this decision still feels right to you. Ask yourself if it still makes sense to you and if this is the route you want to take. Do not feel bad if you change your mind. Making important health decisions is not often easy. Take your time and do what feels right for you. You may explore several options before you finally settle on the one that makes the most sense for your situation.

Develop an Action Plan

After you and your healthcare provider have made a decision, find out what you can do along the way to make sure that you will have the best possible outcome. Do you need to follow a certain diet? Is exercise a good idea? What can you do to make sure you have the best possible outcome from your treatment?

Write down what you need to do and any next steps you should take. Put it together in a plan that makes sense for you. For instance, do you work better with weekly goals or do you prefer to look at the big picture? Choose whatever works best for you. Just make sure you have everything in writing.

Also, think positively about your decision and follow your healthcare provider's advice along the way. You want to be sure you are doing your part to ensure that your treatment plan accomplishes what it is supposed to. Be open to making changes along the way if needed. Sometimes things do not go exactly as planned, so you may need to adjust to little blips on the road. Just remember, though, when you are sharing in the decision, you also are sharing in the outcome.

Share Your Decisions

One final step in the decision-making process is to share your wishes and documentation with others. You need to be sure your loved ones, healthcare providers, and attorney know what choices you have made and how you want to proceed. As a result, be sure you share your action plan with everyone.

This step is important in making sure your wishes are carried out should you be unable to make any additional decisions down the road. What's more, this document lets those who care about you know with no uncertainty what your goals are long term.

An attorney can prepare any legal documents you may need. These documents include a living will, durable power of attorney, healthcare proxy, and anything else he or she might suggest. Some people choose to have a DNR (or "do not resuscitate"). Written documentation protects you and makes it very hard for anyone to act against your wishes.

1 Source
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. National Institute on Aging. Advance Care Planning: Healthcare Directives.

By Sherri Gordon
 Sherri Gordon is a published author and a bullying prevention expert.