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A guide for talking with your doctor

Alicia Colombo

Whether you are seeing a new doctor or your regular physician, it’s important to make the most of your medical appointments. The following tips will make it easier for you and your health care professional to communicate and cover everything you need to know.

Before the appointment, make a list of things you want to discuss. Medical appointments usually last about 15-20 minutes, so it’s best to ask the most important questions right away. Let’s say you have a new health issue. Make some notes about your symptom(s) before you call or visit the doctor. Be sure to share any concerns you may have about how a treatment or medication is affecting your daily life, such as bothersome side effects.

When seeing a new doctor, bring your health insurance card(s), a list of your other doctors, a list of your current medications and doses, and your medical records or last treatment report. You may want to ask the doctor’s office to send you all the forms you will need to complete for your visit in advance. Bring a pen and paper, smartphone or recording device so you can take notes.

Health history
To provide the best care, your doctor must understand your health habits and lifestyle. The doctor may ask about your diet; sleep habits; daily activities; daily care routine, such as bathing and dressing; sex life; and use of tobacco, drugs or alcohol. Be open and honest with your doctors. It will help them understand your medical conditions fully and recommend the best treatment for you. Also, let the doctor know about any major changes or stresses in your life, such as a divorce or the death of a loved one.

Ask questions
Asking questions is key to good communication with your doctor. Be proactive. Don’t wait for the doctor to raise a specific question or subject. Ask questions when you don’t know the meaning of a word or when instructions aren’t clear. For example, does taking medicine with food mean before, during or after a meal?

Medical tests Often, your doctor will need to prescribe bloodwork, X-rays or other tests to help make a diagnosis or to learn more about your medical condition. Some tests, including mammograms, glaucoma exams, and screenings for prostate and colorectal cancer, are performed regularly to check for hidden medical problems.

Before having a medical test, ask your doctor to explain why it is important, what it will show and what it will cost. Other questions to ask:

  • What is the purpose of this test?
  • What does the test involve? Will it be painful?
  • How should I prepare?
  • Are there any risks or side effects?
  • How long will it take to get the results?

When the results are ready, make sure the doctor tells you what they are and explains what they mean. You may want to ask your doctor for a written copy of the test results. If a specialist does the test, ask to have the results sent to your primary doctor. You can find information about preparing for lab tests, explanations of different tests and tips on interpreting lab test results at, a website of the National Library of Medicine at the National Institutes of Health.

Discuss your diagnosis
A diagnosis identifies a disease, illness or health condition. The doctor makes a diagnosis using your symptoms, medical history/information and the results of a physical examination, laboratory work, and other tests.

When you receive a new diagnosis, ask the doctor to tell you the name of the condition and why he or she thinks you have it. Ask how this condition might affect you and how long it might last. Some medical problems never go away completely. If they can’t be cured, they can be treated or managed. If you understand your medical condition, you can help make better decisions about treatment. Knowing what to expect may make it easier for you to manage the condition.

Questions to ask:

  • What may have caused this condition?
  • Will it be permanent?
  • How is this condition treated or managed?
  • What will be the long-term effects on my life?
  • How can I learn more about my condition?
  • Is there a clinical trial or research study that I can join?

If your doctor recommends a course of treatment for a condition, you have the best chance of success when you know what is happening and are involved in making decisions. Make sure you understand what your treatment involves and what it will or will not do. Have the doctor give you directions in writing and ask questions. For example, what are the pros and cons of having surgery at this stage?

Questions to ask about treatment:

  • Are there any risks associated with the treatment?
  • How soon should treatment start? How long will it last?
  • Are other treatments available?
  • How much will the treatment cost? Will insurance cover it?

It’s important to realize that even the best doctor may be unable to answer some questions during your appointment. However, if a doctor regularly dismisses your questions or symptoms as simply a part of aging, think about seeing a different doctor. It is also a good idea to get a second opinion if you receive a diagnosis of a serious illness or chronic health condition.

For more information, go to or call 1-800-222-2225.

Source: National Institute on Aging

Categories: Health Milestones eNews


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