You get ready for a date. You prepare for meetings and presentations at work. But most people don’t think to prepare for visits to the doctor. If you’re one of them, you’re missing out on an important way to help ensure you get the best possible health care.

“I don’t think any of us prepare for our medical visits, and I think that’s a big mistake,” Dr. Margarita Alegria, director of the Harvard-affiliated Center for Multicultural Mental Health Research at Cambridge Health Alliance, said at a recent talk at NIH. Alegria investigates disparities in mental health care services among people from different populations.

Research like Alegria’s may lead to solutions to health disparities, but in the meantime, researchers do know that no matter what ethnic background you have, one key to getting good health care is good communication between you and your health professionals. That’s something you can do something about right now.

The first step in good communication is finding a doctor you feel comfortable talking with. Talking about your health means sharing information about how you feel, both physically and emotionally. Having a good relationship with your main, or primary, doctor is one of the best ways to ensure your good health. This doctor knows you and your particular health history. He or she can help you make medical decisions that suit your values and can guide you toward other medical specialists and health care providers you may need.

A basic plan for your visit can also help. Before going to the doctor, make a list of the things you want to discuss. Think about how you’re going to describe your symptoms. Put your questions in order so you’re sure to ask about the most important ones first.

During your visit, make sure you understand what the medical tests you are getting are for. When a doctor makes a diagnosis, make sure you understand your condition and fully discuss your treatment options.

If you’re not comfortable or unable to do these things yourself, consider bringing a family member or friend and let them know in advance what you want from your visit. Make sure you play your part to get the best health care possible.