What Should I Ask My Doctor During My Checkup?
Editor’s note: A visit to the doctor can be an intimidating and at times overwhelming experience, so it might be difficult to remember everything you’d like to ask your physician. Here, the experts from the National Institute on Aging share what questions you should ask, and how to ask them. You might want to read this before your next appointment, or even take a printout with you.
Asking questions is key to good communication with your doctor. If you don’t ask questions, he or she may assume you already know the answer or that you don’t want more information. Don’t wait for the doctor to raise a specific question or subject; he or she may not know it’s important to you. Be proactive. Ask questions when you don’t know the meaning of a word (like aneurysm, hypertension, or infarct) or when instructions aren’t clear (for example, does taking medicine with food mean before, during, or after a meal?).
Learn About Medical Tests
Sometimes, doctors need to do blood tests, x-rays, or other procedures to find out what is wrong or to learn more about your medical condition. Some tests, such as Pap tests, mammograms, glaucoma tests, and screenings for prostate and colorectal cancer, are done 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. Ask what kind of things you need to do to prepare for the test. For example, you may need to have an empty stomach, or you may have to provide a urine sample. Ask how you will be notified of the test results and how long they will take to come in.
Questions to Ask About Medical Tests
- Why is the test being done?
- What steps does the test involve? How should I get ready?
- Are there any dangers or side effects?
- How will I find out the results? How long will it take to get the results?
- What will we know after the test?
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 the test is done by a specialist, ask to have the results sent to your primary doctor.
Discuss Your Diagnosis and What to Expect
A diagnosis identifies your disease or physical problem. The doctor makes a diagnosis based on the symptoms you are experiencing and the results of the physical exam, laboratory work, and other tests.
If you understand your medical condition, you can help make better decisions about treatment. If you know what to expect, it may be easier for you to deal with the condition.
Ask the doctor to tell you the name of the condition and why he or she thinks you have it. Ask how it may affect you and how long it might last. Some medical problems never go away completely. They can’t be cured, but they can be treated or managed.
Questions to Ask About Your Diagnosis
- 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?
Talk About Your Medications
Your doctor may prescribe a drug for your condition. Make sure you know the name of the drug and understand why it has been prescribed for you. Ask the doctor to write down how often and for how long you should take it.
Make notes about any other special instructions. If you are taking other medications, make sure your doctor knows what they are, so he or she can prevent harmful drug interactions. Check with your doctor’s office before taking any over-the-counter medications.
Let the doctor know if your medicine doesn’t seem to be working or if it is causing problems. If you want to stop taking your medicine, check with your doctor first.
You may find it helpful to keep a chart of all the medicines you take and when you take them. A sample chart is included in Tracking Your Medications: Worksheet.
Four Tips to Help You Remember the Doctor’s Instructions
No matter what your age, it’s easy to forget a lot of what your doctor says. Even if you are comfortable talking with your doctor, you may not always understand what he or she says. So, as your doctor gives you information, it’s a good idea to check that you are following along. Ask about anything that does not seem clear. For instance, you might say: “I want to make sure I understand. Could you explain that a little more?” or “I did not understand that word. What does it mean?”
Another way to check is to repeat what you think the doctor means in your own words and ask, “Is this correct?” Here are some other ideas to help make sure you have all the information you need.
▪Take notes. Take along a notepad and pen and write down the main points, or ask the doctor to write them down for you. If you can’t write while the doctor is talking to you, make notes in the waiting room after the visit. Or bring an audio recorder along and (with the doctor’s permission) record what is said. Recording is especially helpful if you want to share the details of the visit with others.
▪Get written or recorded materials. Ask if your doctor has any brochures, DVDs, or other materials about your health conditions or treatments. For example, if your doctor says that your blood pressure is high, he or she may give you brochures explaining what causes high blood pressure and what you can do about it. Ask the doctor to recommend other sources, such as websites, disease management centers, nonprofit organizations, and government agencies that may have written or recorded information you can use.
▪Talk to other members of the healthcare team. Sometimes, the doctor may want you to talk with other health professionals who can help you understand and carry out the decisions about how to manage your condition. Nurses, physician assistants, pharmacists, and occupational or physical therapists may be able to take more time with you than the doctor.
▪Call or email the doctor. If you are uncertain about the doctor’s instructions after you get home, call the office. A nurse or other staff member can check with the doctor and call you back. You could ask whether the doctor, or other health professional you have talked to, has an email address or online health portal you can use to send questions.
Reprinted courtesy of the National Institute on Aging. For more information on issues of aging, click here to visit the agency’s website.