Questions to ask your doctor and other ways to make the most of your visit
Whether you’re seeing your primary care provider or a specialist, your appointment is the time and place to ask questions and address your concerns. Here are a few ways to make sure you get what you need out of your next medical appointment.
Write down questions to ask your doctor
Even though you often wait to see your doctor, they don’t always have a lot of time to spend with you. “It’s kind of notorious now that you get 15 minutes with your provider. They don’t have much time, so maximize it by preparing ahead,” suggests Caitlin Donovan, senior director of public relations at the National Patient Advocate Foundation.
One way to do that is to consider what is most important to you and write it down. “It’s a good idea before any doctor’s appointment to sit down for 5 minutes and make a quick list of what you want to accomplish, the top things that are bothering you, or your goals for the appointment,” says Donovan.
When your doctor walks in, be prepared. Bring up your top questions or concerns first. That way they know what’s most important to you. If you wait until the doctor is leaving the room to bring up a major concern, they might not realize that it’s important to you. That means they might not give as detailed an answer as you were hoping for.
Instead, before your doctor leaves the room, confirm what they said about your top concerns. For example, “I heard you say this. Is that correct?” If you’re not sure what to ask, here is a printable checklist of questions that can help you get started.
Catalog your top concerns and symptoms
Let’s say you’ve been having regular stomachaches. Make sure you write down your current symptoms and concerns, in addition to your list of general questions for your doctor. “If you’re worried about something going on and you’re noticing symptoms, write them down and how they affect your daily life,” says Donovan.
So next time you have a stomachache, document it and note your symptoms.
- What time is it?
- What were you doing before the pain started?
- How long does it last?
- Does anything make it feel better?
It can also be helpful to bring any medications, vitamins, and supplements you’re taking to your appointment. Just gather up the bottles in a bag. That way if your doctor asks about dosages or needs to look for possible interactions, you’re ready.
One way to help you afford a regular annual health exam is by having a health insurance plan for your needs. Call a licensed insurance agent at (800) 827-9990, or find plans online, to see what’s available in your area.]
Make sure you understand your diagnosis
It can be scary when your doctor finds a health concern and either gives you a diagnosis or refers you to a specialist for further testing. In that moment, it’s a good idea to ask as many questions as possible. Or you might not know what questions to ask right away, and that’s all right too.
“When you receive a diagnosis, your mind can go blank a little bit, and maybe you can’t think of any questions to ask,” Donovan says. In that situation, a good question might be: “How can I contact you with follow-up questions?” Find out if your doctor prefers calls, emails, or additional appointments. Then, go home and take your time writing a list of questions.
You might ask:
- Now that I’ve been diagnosed, what are my next steps?
- What tests are necessary? Are there risks involved?
- How will the results impact my treatment plan?
- How will this diagnosis impact my life?
- Are there lifestyle changes I can make?
- Are there generic medications available to treat what I have?
- What are this medication’s side effects?
- What will happen to me if I don’t get treatment?
It might also be helpful to ask your doctor to write down the name of the condition, particularly if it’s unfamiliar to you.
Know that your opinion matters
Just because you don’t have a medical degree doesn’t mean your opinion doesn’t matter. And one big factor in feeling heard at your next checkup is working with a doctor who is a good fit for you.
But guess what: Not every doctor will be the right fit for you. The goal is to find one who actively listens to you, respects your time, and answers your questions. Above all, you need to feel comfortable talking about personal matters with this person and taking their advice. Your health depends on it.
“You and your physician are a team,” says Donovan. “Recognize that you are an expert in your own body and your own experience and that’s what you bring to the team. And what the physician brings is years of medical expertise.”
Find a health plan with a network that includes doctors you want to work with. Call a licensed insurance agent at (800) 827-9990 to learn about what plans might be available to you. Or, compare plans online.