To learn about your case, you can use many online resources, including:

You can also check out family health books and websites such as the Harvard Medical School Family Health Guide, the Mayo Clinic Family Health Book, The Merck Manual of Medical Information, and the American College of Physicians Complete Home Medical Guide.

For more information, take advantage of public libraries where you can consult consumer-oriented newsletters and medical textbooks. For in-depth information, visit a medical school library, which will have general textbooks, texts in specialty fields, and peer-reviewed medical journals containing articles on new developments not yet included in textbooks.

An online search or a medical school library may also lead you to support groups and organizations that regularly provide information on your type of medical problem. Search for something like “hip replacement forum” or “heart valve replacement forum.”

Ask your doctor for information. Many offer patient decision aids—brochures they can print out for you or make available via an online patient portal. These documents summarize the medical problem and often place common treatment options into a grid so you can do a side-by-side comparison of what each treatment entails, effectiveness, side effects, risks, and recovery time.

Examples of patient decision aids are available from the Patient Decision Aids Research Group from the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute. Ask your doctor to provide one specifically for your case; these aids are often customizable.

The Leapfrog Group is a fantastic resource for checking on whether hospitals are doing everything they can to ensure patient safety.

ChoosingWisely.org works with physician groups to put together bulletins that can help doctors and patients reduce unneeded—and possibly harmful—tests and treatments.