Talking to Your Doctor About Your Health
Mary Calvagna, MS
Finding out you have a medical condition can be scary. Part of what is frightening are all the unkowns—there may be many things that you do not know or do not understand. But, by asking your doctor questions, you can gain a better understanding of what to expect.
Being prepared before you get to the doctor's office will help ensure that your questions get answered. Here are some general tips to get you ready:
- Write a list of concerns and questions. Include any new symptoms you may be having (ie, a change in appetite, sleeping, energy level, or other daily habits).
- Bring a list of all prescription medicines, vitamins, herbal remedies, dietary supplements, over-the-counter medicines, and any other nonprescription medicines you are taking.
- Consider bringing a friend or relative with you.
- Be honest. Do not just say what you think the doctor wants to hear.
Here are some sample questions to get you started:
About Your Condition
- What is my condition, exactly?
- Can you determine a cause?
- Can it be treated?
- What symptoms or changes should I watch for?
What, if any, lifestyle changes should I make related to:
- Drinking alcohol
- How will this affect my lifestyle?
- Can you recommend a support group?
About Your Treatment
- What are my treatment choices?
- How successful has this form of treatment typically been?
- How long will my treatment last?
- What are the benefits of this form of treatment?
- Are there any side effects I should watch for?
- What are the risks involved with this treatment?
- For medicines, what should I do if I miss a dose?
- Are there any alternative or complementary therapies I should consider?
- Should I avoid any foods, drugs, activities, or alcohol?
- Will my medicine interact with any other prescribed medicines, over-the-counter medicines, or dietary supplements that I am currently taking?
- How will I know if my treatment has been successful?
About Your Tests TOP
- What kind of tests will I have?
- What will these tests tell you?
- When will I have the results?
- Will you call me with the results?
- What do I need to do to prepare for the tests?
- Are there any risks associated with the tests?
- Will I need more tests later?
If You Do Not Understand Your Doctor's Answers TOP
- Ask more questions. Ask the doctor to explain any words or concepts that you do not understand.
- Bring a pad of paper and take notes. Or ask your doctor to write things down for you.
- Ask your doctor for any written materials, pamphlets, or videos that may relate to your condition.
- Ask where you can get more information.
- Try talking with other healthcare providers (such as nurses, physician assistants, physical therapists, and pharmacists) who may take more time to explain things to you.
Depending on your condition, there may be many other questions that you will want to and need to ask. Do not be afraid to speak up, ask questions, and insist on answers—even when the answer is "We do not know." Remember, your doctor is your partner in healthcare and you both have the same goal, returning you to optimum health.
National Institute on Aging website. Available at:
Accessed July 15, 2008.
The National Women's Health Information Center website. Available at:
Accessed July 15, 2008.