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Home > Healthcare 101 > “What’s that for?” Key questions to ask your doctor

“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 a proactive role 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 three-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. Dr. Google isn’t a licensed physician, so be sure you’re open to what your real doctor has to say.

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