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“What’s that for?” Key questions to ask your doctor

It happens to everyone: you leave the doctor’s office and realize there’s something you forgot to ask.

It’s your health we’re talking about here, so go ahead and take the initiative in the discussion. Asking questions is one of the best ways to make sure you and your doctor are on the same page.

Before you go:

Think about why you made the doctor appointment and what you hope to get out of it. Do you want to talk about a change in your health? Adjust a medication? Talk about treatment options?

If you’re dealing with a complex health issue, consider bringing along someone you trust to help listen and take notes. The same goes for older patients, who might be managing multiple conditions. 

Any doctor visit:

•   What’s my diagnosis? What does it mean?
•   What are my treatment options?
•   Are there symptoms I should watch for that would require urgent care?
•   What’s the best way to contact you if my symptoms change or worsen?
•   Do I need a follow-up visit? What should I do before my next appointment?

Tip: If your appointment ends and you still have unanswered questions, see if you can get in touch by phone or email, or schedule a follow-up visit.

Questions to ask your doctor if you’re prescribed medication:

•   What’s the medication for? What does it do?
•   How should I take it? How long should I take it for?
•   Are there any side effects?
•   Could it interact with other medications I take?
•   Do I need to change my diet or habits while I’m taking it?
•   Will I be able to tell if it’s working or not?

Tip: Save time by using a mail-order delivery service, or by ordering medications in a 3-month supply.

Questions to ask your doctor if you need labs or imaging tests:

•   What’s the test for?
•   What will the results tell you?
•   Will the test help me make decisions about my care?
•   How should I prepare?
•   How and when can I get the results?

Tip: Remember that prices vary widely, so search for a lower-cost lab or imaging center.

Questions to ask your doctor if you need a procedure or surgery:

•   Why do I need this procedure?
•   What outcome do you expect?
•   Are there other treatments available?
•   Do I need to do it now, or can it wait?
•   What are the risks of not getting the procedure?

Tip: Whether or not to get surgery is a big decision! If you’re still unsure after talking to your doctor, seek a second opinion.

If you Googled your symptoms (we all do it, right?):

•   I looked up my symptoms online, but what do you think?
•   Is there an online resource you’d recommend if I want to read more about my condition?

Tip: Not all online health forums are reliable, and they often focus only on the most extreme cases. Google isn’t a licensed physician, so be sure you’re open to what your real doctor has to say.

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