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Questions to ask your doctor

To be at your best self, you need to take initiative to maintain your health. Part of that process is having thoughtful and informative conversations with your healthcare provider. It’s crucial for patients to come to medical appointments armed with personal information and a plan to discuss their health, explains Chris Carrubba, MD, a physician and medical educator in Jacksonville, FL. 

He also recommends that patients keep a health journal. “This can include tracking your home blood pressure or blood sugar readings, documenting the duration, timing, and quality of your symptoms, and questions to ask your doctor,” Dr. Carrubba says. “If you think that something is important, don’t be afraid to bring it up or ask.”

Asking health questions is particularly important for patients experiencing health problems. “[Patients] should understand, in their own vocabulary, what the problem or potential problem is, and what the plan is to tackle or prevent the problem,” says Carol Thelen, a nurse practitioner for Mercy Personal Physicians in Lutherville, Maryland. “Then, if they anticipate any obstacles to the goal of preventing or resolving the problem, they can bring them up to their healthcare provider.”

To help you prepare, we’ve made a list of information you should bring with you to an appointment and medical questions you should ask when you see your medical provider. 

Questions to ask a doctor about your general health

Even if you have no major medical problems, it is still important to be proactive about your health. “Studies have shown that being actively involved in your own care leads to better outcomes and increased satisfaction,” says Crystal Polson, a nurse practitioner and patient advocate in New York City. “You’re also less likely to experience medical errors or mistakes if you are in control of your health.” She recommends asking the following questions at your next medical appointment:

  1. What can I do to take better care of myself?
  2. How can I reach my health goal of _______?
  3. Do I really need another “routine” blood test?
  4. Why are you ordering this test and what action will you take based on the results?
  5. What are a few reliable websites I can go to when I want to look up health and medical information?

Repeat back what you’ve heard, and ask for clarification if there’s something you don’t understand.

Questions to ask a doctor about prescription medications

First off, you should always bring a list of all your medications, prescription or non-prescription, and any supplements you are taking. “This can help your doctor review your medication list and look for any potential for drug interactions,” Dr. Carrubba explains. 

He recommends asking the following questions about all prescription medications: 

  1. Why am I taking this medication? What condition does it treat? 
  2. Is there any way to decrease the total number of medications that I take?
  3. Are there better medications for my symptoms or condition?
  4. Are there less expensive medications that work just as well?
  5. What do I do if I miss a dose?
  6. Are my supplements safe, beneficial, and right for me?

Questions to ask a doctor about treatment options

When you receive a medical diagnosis, you should also ask questions about treatment options. We recommend the following:

  1. What are the latest clinical trials for this disease? 
  2. What is the latest FDA-approved treatment for this disease?
  3. Why are you recommending this particular treatment option?
  4. If there is more than one option for treatment, how do you know which will work best?
  5. What is the cost of this treatment? 
  6. Is there a generic option available? If so, does it work just as well?
  7. What are the risks and benefits of receiving this treatment?
  8. What side effects can I expect?
  9. What should I do if I experience side effects?
  10. Will this treatment affect my other health conditions?
  11. Do I have to make any lifestyle changes in order to use this treatment?

Questions to ask a doctor if you need surgery

Any surgery, no matter how big or small, deserves serious consideration. We recommend asking your doctor the following questions if he or she recommends an operation:

  1. Why do I need surgery?
  2. Why are you recommending this particular procedure?
  3. Is there more than one method of performing this surgery?
  4. How much will the surgery cost?
  5. What are the risks and benefits of this procedure?
  6. Are there alternatives to having surgery?
  7. What will happen if I don’t have this surgery?
  8. Can you recommend a specialist who can offer a second opinion?
  9. What kind of anesthesia will I need? Are there side effects?
  10. How long will it take to recover from surgery?
  11. Is the surgeon qualified?
  12. How long will I be in the hospital? 
  13. What will my life be like after surgery?

Questions to ask a doctor after receiving a serious diagnosis such as cancer or a chronic condition

If you’ve recently been diagnosed with cancer or another major chronic disease, your thoughts might be spinning. Once you catch your breath, it is important to educate yourself about your diagnosis. “After any kind of medical diagnosis, I encourage you to learn as much as you can about the disease,” says Dr. Snehal Smart, on-staff doctor at the Pleural Mesothelioma Center in Wilmington, Delaware. He encourages patients to ask the following questions:

  1. What type of cancer do I have, and what stage and cell type is it?
  2. What are my treatment options, and what are the benefits and risks of each one?
  3. How much experience do you have treating [this disease], and is there a specialist you recommend for a second opinion?
  4. What clinical trials are available for the type of cancer I have?

It’s important to be as informed about your health as possible. In order to be health literate, it is important that you have thoughtful and enlightening conversations with your provider. We hope that this list of questions helps you prepare for an educational visit with your healthcare provider.