How to Talk to a Doctor

Waiting in your doctor’s office can make you feel nervous, impatient, or even scared. You might worry about what’s wrong with you. You might feel annoyed because you’re not getting other things done. Then when you see your doctor or nurse, the visit seems to be so short. You might have only a few minutes to explain your symptoms and concerns. Later that day, you might remember something you forgot to ask. You wonder if your question and its answer matters. Knowing how to talk to your doctor, nurse, or other members of your health care team will help you get the information you need.

Tips: What To Do

List your questions and concerns. Before your appointment, make a list of what you want to ask. When you’re in the waiting room, review your list and organize your thoughts. You can share the list with your doctor or nurse.

Describe your symptoms. Say when these problems started. Say how they make you feel. If you know, say what sets them off or triggers them. Say what you’ve done to feel better.

Give your doctor a list of your medications. Tell what prescription drugs and over-the-counter medicines, vitamins, herbal products, and other supplements you’re taking.

Be honest about your diet, physical activity, smoking, alcohol or drug use, and sexual history. Not sharing information with your doctor or nurse can be harmful!

Describe any allergies to drugs, foods, pollen, or other things. Don’t forget to mention if you are being treated by other doctors, including mental health professionals.

Talk about sensitive topics. Your doctor or nurse has probably heard it before! Don’t leave something out because you’re worried about taking up too much time. Be sure to talk about all of your concerns before you leave. If you don’t understand the answers your doctor gives you, ask again.

Ask questions about any tests and your test results. Get instructions on what you need to do to get ready for the test(s). Ask if there are any dangers or side effects. Ask how you can learn the test results. Ask how long it will take to get the results.

Ask questions about your condition or illness. If you are diagnosed with a condition, ask your doctor how you can learn more about it. What caused it? Is it permanent? What can you do to help yourself feel better? How can it be treated?

Tell your doctor or nurse if you are pregnant or intend to become pregnant. Some medicines may not be suitable for you. Other medicines should be used with caution if you are pregnant or about to become pregnant.

Ask your doctor about any treatments he or she recommends. Be sure to ask about all of your options for treatment. Ask how long the treatment will last. Ask if it has any side effects. Ask how much it will cost. Ask if it is covered by your health insurance.

Ask your doctor about any medicines he or she prescribes for you. Make sure you understand how to take your medicine. What should you do if you miss a dose? Are there any foods, drugs, or activities you should avoid when taking the medicine? Is there a generic brand of the drug you can use? You can also ask your pharmacist if a generic drug is available for your medication.

Ask more questions if you don’t understand something. If you’re not clear about what your doctor or nurse is asking you to do or why, ask to have it explained again.

Bring a family member or trusted friend with you. That person can take notes, offer moral support, and help you remember what was discussed. You can have that person ask questions, too!

Call before your visit to tell them if you have special needs. If you don’t speak or understand English well, the office may need to find an interpreter. If you have a disability, ask if they can accommodate you.

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