For years, the doctor-patient relationship went a little something like this: Patient visits the doctor... doctor tells the patient what to do.

That's the way it still is in many practices, and that might even describe your relationship with your own doctor. But you're perfectly capable of making decisions about your health -- and two new campaigns are urging you to do just that.

And it starts with three simple questions:

1) What are my options?

2) What are the possible benefits and risks of those options?

3) How likely are the benefits and risks of each option to occur?

Those three questions, part of a new campaign from Britain's Cardiff & Vale University Health Board, can dramatically change your understanding of both your diagnosis and the possible treatments -- and could lead you to rethink everything from your drug prescriptions to surgical recommendations.

But I'd add one more to the list -- one that's even more important, even if you won't get a straight answer to it from some doctors:

4) What are my alternatives?

Believe it or not, that very question is actually one our own government is encouraging you to ask -- although, let's face it, they're almost certainly referring to choosing one med over another rather than a natural supplement over a dangerous drug.

In any case, it's a crucial question that you should ask any time you're handed a treatment plan -- and the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, is urging more patients to ask it as part of its "Questions are the Answer" campaign.

Hard to believe I'm saying this about a government health program, but they're actually on the right track here.

The agency even recommends three crucial questions for anyone facing surgery -- questions too many people never bother to ask:

  • Why do I need surgery?
  • Are there other ways to treat my condition?
  • How often do you perform this surgery?

The best part of this campaign is the website, which features a "Question Builder" to help you create a customized list you can print out and bring to your doctor.

Doctors might not be used to getting all these questions from their patients -- but a good doctor won't be afraid to answer them.