Be An Informed Patient

Make the most of your doctor’s visit.

How many times have you gotten home from a doctor’s appointment and realized you forgot to ask an important question? Many people feel uncomfortable, flustered, or embarrassed about their state of health and end up omitting information, neglecting to ask the right questions, or forgetting what the doctor said by the time they leave the office.

Doctor-patient communication is key to successful treatment. You must not only listen carefully, but also be prepared to ask the right questions and ask them again if the answer is unclear. Since you only have a few minutes with your doctor, here are some tips to help you make the most of every precious moment you get.

Ask the Questions

Most doctor appointments center around a core list of questions regarding diagnosis, treatment, surgery (if necessary), and prognosis. When you’re heading in for an evaluation or diagnosis, good questions to start with include the following:

  • What’s my problem? What’s causing the problem and is there anything else that could be the cause?
  • What tests will be done to diagnose the problem? Are the tests safe? How accurate are the results and when will I get them?
  • Depending on the diagnosis, what are the treatment options? How effective are they? What are the risks and benefits of each option?
  • What are the directions for taking my medication? Is there a reliable generic brand available? Are there side effects or negative interactions associated with the medication?
  • What’s the short-term and long-term prognosis for my condition? Am I contagious? How will this affect my daily life? What do I do if the symptoms worsen?
  • What’s next? Do I need a follow-up visit? If yes, when?
  • If surgery is advised, why? What’s the procedure? What kind of anesthesia is used? What are the risks involved? How long is the recovery period? What kind of experience do you have performing this procedure? What happens if I don’t have surgery? Are there any alternative treatments?

While this by no means an exhaustive list of questions, it will get you started. The nature of your condition will determine other, more detailed questions.

And Ask Them Again

If you don’t understand something the doctor explains in the office, don’t expect to understand it when you get home. When you’re unclear about something, ask for clarification then and there. Let the doctor explain things in another way or give examples until you understand what’s being said. You don’t want to leave an appointment feeling confused.

Listen and Remember

To make sure you don’t leave with unanswered questions or feeling unsure of your doctor’s orders, take these steps to help you listen carefully and remember what was said. For appointments with specialists or for serious medical conditions, take a friend or family member with you. Having a second pair of ears to listen and a second mind to ask important questions can be a lifesaver at doctor visits. After the appointment, you can review together what the doctor said and perhaps remember things one of you forgets.

Whether or not you take someone with you to the appointment, it’s a great idea to take a list of questions with you as well as a pen and paper. In the days leading up to your visit, jot down questions, symptoms, a list of current medications, and concerns that you want to discuss with your doctor. Then, as your doctor answers your questions, gives advice, and explains tests and treatment options, write down what he or she says. If you’d rather, record the visit on your phone or digital recorder.

Before you leave, repeat back to the doctor the main points you need to remember so you know you’re on the same page. Then go home confident that you took control of your health!



Allan Alguire

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