September 24, 2015

Navigating the U.S. health care system can be a confusing and sometimes disheartening process. But it doesn’t have to be that way, argues Leslie D. Michelson, whose new book, The Patient’s Playbook, offers tips on how to maximize the benefits of medical care. A sampling:

1 BOND WITH YOUR DOCTOR

It can be tough to make small talk during short visits. But people who have strong relationships with their primary-care physicians tend to be more open about important health details and likelier to get the preventive exams that are right for them.

2 GET SECOND OPINIONS

In the U.S. alone, diagnostic error contributes to the death or disability of at least 80,000 people a year. So it’s important to consult with multiple medical experts before agreeing to surgery and other major treatments.

3 DON’T BE AFRAID TO TRAVEL

Community hospitals can offer great care. But for complex procedures, it’s worth considering a major institution; if it accepts your health insurance, the cost will be roughly the same.

–A.S.

This appears in the October 05, 2015 issue of TIME.

Contact us at editors@time.com.

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