Contact CHC at 412-456-1877

Being a Proactive Patient

Table of Contents

How do I find a doctor?
Things to ask office staff
Linking physical & mental health
Personal health profile
Understanding your diagnosis
Understanding your medications
Understanding your tests
Understanding your surgery
Doctor visit checklist


This guide has been created for you, the health consumer, on behalf of the Consumer Health Coalition’s
Health Committee for People with Disabilities, Physical Health/Mental Health Workgroup. The purpose of this workgroup is:
“Assuring the consideration of physical health and mental health issues in all health care.”
You can use this guide to:

  • Make sure your physical health and behavioral health is included in all health care
  • Make sure your physical health needs are met
  • Make sure your behavioral/mental health needs are met
  • Become a better self-advocate

You know yourself and your needs better than anyone. It is in your best interest to be as proactive a patient as possible! This will help both you and your doctor to make important decisions. In order to best care for yourself as a whole person, you must speak up for ALL of your health care needs and concerns. We hope
this tool will help you do so!

To request additional copies of this resource, please contact Consumer Health Coalition: 412-456-1877 x203 or
Email Sally Jo

How Do I Find a Doctor?

  • Ask yourself, “What health care need am I trying to address?” This may include: primary care health, behavioral/mental health, oral health, vision care or another kind of specialty care.
  • Make a list of possible doctors. If you have insurance, you can call the customer service number on your insurance card for possible doctors.
  • Ask :
    • A doctor or other health professionals who work with doctors, such as nurses, if they have a recommendation.
    • Family, friends, neighbors, and coworkers if they have a good, trusted doctor.
    • If you already have a Primary Care Physician (PCP), ask him or her for a recommended dentist or other specialist.
  • Contact hospital physician finder services.
    • Use the PA Medical Society “Find a Physician” at or call 800-228-7823.
    • To locate oral health care, visit the Pennsylvania Dental Association website: or call 717-234-5941.


Health centers offer low-cost care to people who are uninsured.

Braddock, Family Health Center: 412-351-6400
Bruston/Belmar, Westinghouse School: 412-361-0909
Duquesne, Family Health Center: 412-466-6300
East End, Community Health Center: 412-404-4000
East Liberty, Family Health Center: 412-661-2802
Hazelwood, Family Health Center: 412-422-9520
Hill District, Hill House Health Center: 412-261-0937
Homestead, Steel Valley Health: 412-461-3863
Homewood/Brushton, Alma Illery Medical: 412-244-4700
Rankin, Family Health Facility: 412-351-4555
Knoxville/Beltzhoover, Hilltop Health Care: 412-431-3520
Lincoln/Lemington, Family Health Center: 412-361-8284
Manchester, Health Center: 412-231-6700
McKeesport, Family Health Center: 412-664-4112
McKees Rocks, Sto-Rox Health Center: 412-771-6462
North Oakland, Matilda Thiess Health: 412-383-1550
North Side, Christian Health Center: 412-321-4001
South Side, Birmingham Free Clinic: 412-692-4706
Squirrel Hill/Greenfield, Health Center: 412-422-7442
West End, Health Center: 412-921-7200
Wilkinsburg, Metro Family Practice: 412-247-9144
Wilkinsburg, Family Health Center: 412-247-5216

Medical Assistance Health Insurance Plans:

Gateway Health Plan, 1-800-392-1147
Unison Health Plan, 1-800-400-4003
UPMC For You, 1-800-286-4242

Behavioral Health Support & Treatment

Connection to behavioral health support and treatment is provided through the following Service Coordination Units. Service Coordination Units:
Milestone Centers, Inc., 412-243-3400
712 South Avenue, Pittsburgh, 15221

Milestone Centers, Inc., 412-731-9707
10 Duff Road, Suite 301, Pittsburgh, 15235

Chartiers MH/MR Center, Inc., 412-221-3302
437 Railroad Street, Bridgeville, 15017

Family Services of Western PA, 724-335-9883
310 Central City Plaza, New Kensington, 15068

Mercy Behavioral Health,
North 412-323-8026,
South 412-488-4040
412 East Commons, Pittsburgh, 15212

Mon-Yough Community Services, 412-675-8480
333 Shaw Ave, McKeesport, 15132

Staunton Clinic, 412-749-7330
111 Hazel Lane, Suite 300, Sewickley, 15143

Turtle Creek Valley MH/MR, 412-351-0222
723 Braddock Ave, Braddock, 15104

Western Psychiatric Institute & Clinic, 412-624-1000
3811 O’Hara St, Pittsburgh, 15213

re:solve Crisis Network, 1-888-796-8226

Behavioral Health Emergency Services, (Office of Behavioral Health) 412-350-4457

Community Care Behavioral Health—Allegheny County, 1-800-553-7499

Allegheny County Health Choices, Inc.,
Ombudsman, 1-877-787-2424 x775

Things to ask office staff

  • What type of health insurance does the office accept? Do I need to bring my insurance card(s)?
  • What hospital is the doctor affiliated with?
  • Does the doctor have a special area of concentration?
  • Is the doctor familiar in treating patients with my condition?
  • What are the office hours?
  • How long does it usually take to get a routine appointment?
  • How long does it usually take to get a “sick” appointment?
  • How much time does the doctor spend with patients? Should I ask for more time when I make an appointment?
  • What is the office’s cancellation policy? Will I have to pay if I cancel?
  • Who covers for the doctor when he or she is not available?
  • What do I do if I need urgent care or have an emergency?
  • How do I get to the office? Is there parking? Is the office on a bus line?
  • Is the office wheelchair accessible? Is the exam room, table and equipment accessible? Is assistance provided for people with disabilities?
  • Can I complete necessary paperwork ahead of time?How can I have my medical records sent to your office?

Communicating with the Doctor

  • Does the doctor or someone in the office speak the language that I am most comfortable speaking?
  • Are there interpreter services for people with hearing impairments? For people who speak a language other than English?
  • Is there a device in the office to assist people with hearing loss?
  • Let the doctor know if you are going to bring a family member or friend to the doctor.
  • Can I designate a person for the doctor to share information with? Is there a release form?
  • Will the doctor fax information to other doctors offices? Is there a release form?
  • Does the doctor give advice over the phone for medical concerns?
  • Is there someone in the office I can talk to just to ask a question?
  • Is it difficult to speak with the doctor over the telephone?
  • Does the doctor accept email/written questions from patients?
  • Are materials from the doctor’s office available in an alternative format?

Linking physical & mental health

  • Make sure your physical health doctor is aware of your mental health concerns and medications.
  • Make sure your doctors communicate with each other about all of your health concerns.
  • Recognize that there is a connection between your physical and mental health symptoms. Be prepared to describe your symptoms as accurately as possible.
  • Be honest with yourself and your doctor about lifestyle behaviors for physical AND mental health such as diet, physical activity, smoking, drug and alcohol use, and sexual history.
  • It is okay to discuss sensitive topics with your doctor, whether related to physical OR mental health concerns. Be sure to talk about concerns with both types of health needs with your doctor.
  • Monitor physical and mental health medications between doctor visits. Be aware of the physical side effects of all medications, and the possibility for developing chronic health symptoms. Remember that your pharmacist can be a great resource for questions about your medications.
  • Between doctor visits, pay attention to your physical health needs and mental health needs.
  • Keep in mind that oral health care can affect both physical health and mental health, so it is important to see a dentist regularly and share information about your health with your dentist.
  • If alcohol or other substances are impacting your daily life, don’t hesitate to discuss this with your doctor. Services are available that can help.

Personal health profile

Compile and keep track of the following information:

Emergency Contact Person:

Insurance Cards:

List of prescriptions/medications/dosage:

List of vitamins/supplements:

List of allergies:

I was in the hospital for…

I have had these surgeries…

I have had these diagnoses/conditions…

My family members have/had these major conditions…

I see these other health care providers…

Understanding your diagnosis

  • What is my diagnosis?
  • Where can I find out more information about my diagnosis?
  • How should I respond to my diagnosis?
  • What do I need to do to recover?
  • What changes will I have to make to my daily routine?
  • What changes should I make in my lifestyle? Diet, exercise, drinking, smoking?
  • If I ignore this problem, will it go away? What are the consequences of doing nothing?
  • How can I explain this diagnosis to others?
  • Do I need another appointment, medication, or treatment?

Understanding your medications

  • Do I need a prescription or can I buy it over the counter?
  • What is the name of the medication I should take? Is there a generic name?
  • What is the medication supposed to do?
  • How long has this medication been around?
  • Are there side effects of the medication?
  • Are there anti-side effect medications?
  • What are the long term effects of taking this medication?
  • How long will I have to take the medication?
  • How much medication should I take? How often should I take it?
  • Are there other medications or foods I should not have while I am on this medication?
  • Are there things I cannot do while on this medication like being in the sun or drinking alcohol?
  • Will my insurance pay for the medication?
  • Do you have samples of the medication with clear directions for use?
  • Will I need to have tests to monitor the effects of my medication? How often?

If you are having trouble affording your medications, please contact Consumer Health Coalition for help. 412-456-1877

Understanding your tests

  • Why should I have this test?
  • Where will the test be done?
  • What should I do to prepare for the test? What should I wear? Will I need to undress?
  • What should I bring with me to the test?
  • Do I need to change my diet beforehand? How?
  • Do I need to come to the test early?
  • Do I need someone with me at the test? Does someone need to take me home?
  • Can I take my medications? Will any of my medications interfere with the test?
  • How will this test be done?
  • How long will the test take?
  • Will the test require being in a closed environment?
  • Will I experience pain or discomfort?
  • How accurate will the test results be?
  • What are the risks and benefits of the test?
  • When and how will I receive the results?
  • Can I have a copy of my test results?
  • What should I do so other providers can get these results?

Understanding your surgery

  • What type of operation do I need?
  • Why do I need this operation?
  • What are the risks and benefits of the operation?
  • How many times have you performed this procedure?
  • Will I need to stay in the hospital? If so, for how long?
  • How long can I expect for my recovery, given my health concerns? What can I expect for my recovery, given these health concerns? Will I need help at home?
  • Will I need physical or occupational therapy or special care afterwards?
  • What will happen if I don’t have the operation?
  • Are there any other treatments I could have instead of an operation?
  • Do I need a specialist? Are there specialists for this type of surgery?
  • Where can I get a second opinion?

Doctor visit checklist

Did I…

  • Arrive on time or early for my appointment?
  • Complete my personal health profile?
  • Make my needs clear?
  • Make follow-up appointments?

Did the doctor…

  • Spend enough time with me?
  • Give me a chance to ask questions?
  • Really listen to my questions?
  • Answer in terms I understood?
  • Show respect for me?
  • Ask me questions?
  • Make me feel comfortable?
  • Address the health problems I came with?
  • Address and respect my physical health needs?
  • Address and respect my mental/behavioral health needs?
  • Make appropriate referrals?
  • Update my medications?

If you are unsatisfied with your visit, consider finding another doctor. If you believe your rights have been violated, contact Disability Rights Network 412-391-5225.