Navigating Your Health Care

Knowing how to navigate your health care can feel overwhelming, especially if you don’t know where to start! You can make this process easier by improving your health literacy, understanding your health insurance plan and knowing how to advocate for your health care needs with your provider.

Health Literacy

Health literacy describes a person’s ability to find and understand relevant health information, and use that information to better their own health and well-being. You can learn more about how to improve your health literacy and your overall well-being below. 

How to get the most out of your visit

Most health care providers see a lot of patients each day, and may only have a short amount of time that they can spend with you. To get the most out of your visit, it can be helpful to follow these tips:

  • Be on time. Arrive at least 15 minutes early in order to get checked in and complete the necessary paperwork before your appointment time. 
  • Come prepared.
    •  Make a list of any questions or concerns you may have for your provider.
    • Bring any documentation you may need to your appointment, like your insurance card and a list of current or recent medications, and have any previous health care records (i.e., results from tests that were completed somewhere else) that are relevant sent to your provider before your visit.  
  • Be honest. Answer all questions truthfully so your provider can use this information to determine the best treatment option for you.
  • Know the best way to reach your provider. Do they prefer to be called on the phone? Would they rather be e-mailed? Or would they like you to contact them via the patient portal?  Be sure to ask before leaving your appointment. 

What is a “patient portal?”

A patient portal is a secure website that can connect you directly to your provider’s office. At Towson University, we use the Tiger Health Portal.  Through a patient portal, you can often: 

  • ask questions
  • pay a bill
  • submit documents
  • access your test results
  • request a medication refill
  • review your health records
  • see your upcoming appointments  

If you are interested in setting up a patient portal, ask your provider if they offer this option. 

Advocating for Yourself

Knowing how to speak up for yourself in a medical setting is very important, but it can also feel very difficult. If you are not sure how to do this, it may be helpful to practice what you want to say to your provider in front of a mirror, or have a trusted friend or loved one help you make a list of your concerns and a plan for how you can address them with your provider. The tips below can also help you improve these self-advocacy skills. 

  • Understanding the tests/screenings you should get for your age range and health needs.
    • If your provider does not want to do certain tests that you ask for, ask them to note this in your file.
  • Being assertive, but remain respectful to all medical staff. 
    • If you feel like your provider is not focusing on the issues that you would like to have addressed, try saying “I do not want to talk about that today. I am here to talk about ________ ."
  • Knowing your body — you are your best advocate! You are the expert of your own body and what is or is not your “normal.”
    • If you are experiencing symptoms that seem to be “abnormal,” make note of what they are, when they are happening, for how long and if there is any pain/discomfort, discoloration, or odor associated with these symptoms.

Maybe You Need a Second Opinion

If you are unsure about a recommended diagnosis or treatment plan from your provider, you may want to get a second opinion from a different provider.

For this, you will need to find similar providers in the area that will accept your insurance and make an appointment. Explain your circumstances and that you are looking for a second opinion. Make sure that you have your first provider’s office send all necessary documentation to the second provider — this can be done with a medical release form.

Getting a Prescription Filled at the Pharmacy 

Filling a prescription is easier than it sounds, but there are a few things that you will need to know before you pick up your medication. If you are unsure of the process, follow these tips:

  • Know the pharmacy you will be using before any medical appointments, and let your provider know that this is where they can electronically send your prescription order. 
  • Call the pharmacy and ask for an estimated time to pick up your prescription. You can also ask what the copay will be. 
  • Bring any documentation or information you may need, like your insurance card, identification and the name of your medication. 

Don't forget to ask the pharmacist any questions you might have about how to use your prescription.

Navigating your Health Insurance 

How do you use your health insurance? Whether you are covered under a parent or guardian's insurance, use public insurance, or pay for your own, knowing how to find out what costs are covered - and what costs are not - can seem daunting. To get familiar with your insurance plan, take a look at your insurance card. 

Your Insurance Card

The front of your insurance card should list what your copay is for a provider visit as well as an emergency room visit. 

The back of your insurance card should list a phone number that can help you talk to a representative of your insurance provider. Also on the back of your insurance card should be a website where you can find what is covered under your insurance plan and a list of providers who are in-network.


This means that your insurance provider works with that medical office and will provide insurance coverage for services you receive there. If a provider is "out-of-network", your insurance typically will not cover the cost of the services you receive there.

To determine the cost of your health care, talk to a representative from your insurance company, or check out their website.

Recommended Screenings for College Students 

Routine health screenings are an important, and sometimes overlooked, part of maintaining your health and well-being. For most college students, the recommendations for routine screenings are as follows:

  • Get a yearly physical with your primary care provider to establish a baseline of your health. this can help identify if and when you are experiencing health issues. 
  • Get a testicular exam every 2 years starting at age 15 to maintain testicular health.
  • Get a PAP smear exam every 3 years starting at age 21 to maintain vaginal and cervical health.
  • Consider being tested for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) at least once a year of you are sexually active. 
    • If you have multiple sex partners, or engage in sex without a barrier method (like a condom or dental dam) consider being tested more frequently (every 3-6 months).  

Find out more about STI screening recommendations from the CDC.