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When you are with your doctor, and the doctor gives you news or suggests a new drug or treatment, it is hard to think of all the questions you would like answered. While we provide the questions, we also know that even if you read them now, you are not likely to recall them all if one of the listed events occurs.

That is why we suggest you print these questions and keep them with your health file. Take them with you to each doctor appointment so you're prepared. Taking lists to meetings will quickly become habit.

We provide a starting list of questions for the following subjects in the other sections of this article:

For additional information, see:

Questions To Ask If You Receive A New Diagnosis

A diagnosis is based on the symptoms you are experiencing, and the results of physical exams, laboratory work, and other tests. If you receive a new diagnosis, consider asking the following questions. Because so much starts with a new diagnosis, be sure you understand what the doctor tells you.

  • What is the name? (Ask the doctor to write it down if there is any chance of confusion).
  • What is it? You need to understand what the diagnosis is in order to make better decisions about treatment.
  • Why does the doctor think you have it?
  • How long does it usually last?
  • What's the best way to learn more about it?
  • What would happen if I don't do anything about it?
  • What can I do as a patient to get the most benefit from treatments and to get rid of or minimize this condition?
  • What are the treatment alternatives? (See Choosing A Treatment). If the doctor works for a managed care company, or your insurance is of a managed care variety:
    • Ask if there are other treatment options that the doctor hasn't discussed.
    • Do your own research as well (or ask someone to do it for you) to find out whether there are additional options you should consider.
  • If drugs are recommended to treat the condition, at least learn the name and what the drug is supposed to do for you. To prevent errors, ask the doctor to write down how often and for how long you should take the drug -- as well as other special instructions. Be sure to ask whether the drug conflicts with your other drugs. For additional questions to ask, see Drug Questionnaire.
  • If the diagnosis involves a communicable disease (one that can be transferred to another person), what sort of precautions should I take?
  • Will I need any special assistance in my home for my condition? If so, what type of assistance? Will it be covered by my insurance?
  • Are there any changes I should consider making to my home because of my health condition? To my daily activities?
  • What take-home information can you provide about my diagnosis and treatments, such as books, brochures, diagrams, and audio or videotapes?

Questions To Ask If The Doctor Recommends Tests

Before agreeing to take a test, consider asking the following questions, and compare the answers to your priorities.

  • What is the purpose of the test? Or: What do you hope to learn from the test?
  • How reliable is the test?
  • What does the test involve?
  • How much time will the test take?
  • What do I need to do to prepare for it?
  • Is there discomfort during the test? Afterward?
  • Are there side effects? If so, would they be temporary? Permanent?
  • What could go wrong?
  • How much will it cost? Is it insured?
  • Where does it occur?
  • Does it need to be done now, or can we wait and see whether it is really necessary? If we wait, what are the risks?
  • When will you know the results? Then: How will I know? Will you call or does it require another visit?

Make sure the doctor tells you the test results and explains what they mean. You may want to ask for a written copy of the test results. If the test was done by a specialist, ask to have the results sent to your primary doctor.

To assure you get the rest results, make an alert on your computer or in your daily diary to call to call to find out the test results if you don't hear by the date you're told.

Questions To Ask If The Doctor Recommends A Drug That's New For You

Help avoid medication errors. At least consider asking the doctor the following questions. Preferably complete a drug questionnaire about each drug. Questions the doctor doesn't have time to answer can be answered by your pharmacist. If not, he or she can direct you to the appropriate source.

At least ask the doctor:

  • What the drug is.
  • What it does.
  • Possible side effects.
  • How long to take the drug.
  • Whether the drug is compatible with your other drugs.
  • What are the alternatives such as more exercise or better nutrition or complementary therapies?
  • Are there alternative, less expensive drugs? If so, why is this drug suggested instead of the alternatives?

IF YOU ARE OVER AGE 65: You are likely to metabolize drugs differently than when you were young. Extra precautions need to be taken with the dosage of drugs. Watch for any changes such as fatigue or incontinence which may signal too large a dose. Review your meds with your doctor at least every 6 months. To avoid overdosage, ask: what drugs can you reduce or eliminate?

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Questions To Ask If The Doctor Recommends A Treatment

When considering a new treatment, keep in mind that it is your right to say no if you want to. If you're considering refusing treatment, read our article on the subject first.

Questions To Ask When Your Test Results Come In

If you are uncomfortable asking questions, bring someone with you who is willing and able to take that role. Record the answers, or write them down during or right after the appointment so you don't have to worry about remembering the answers.

Pathology reports

Understand what the pathology report means in terms of prognosis and treatment, stage, and grade.

X-rays, mammograms, CT scans or MRIs

Think about asking to see the films. Seeing the enemy may help you fight it.

Blood work


  • Is there anything that's not normal?
  • What do the abnormal results mean?
  • What can you do about making the abnormal results better? What are the pros and cons of each alternative?
  • What would happen if you did nothing?

Questions To Ask If Your Doctor Makes A Referral To A Specialist

If a doctor makes a referral to a specialist, consider asking the following questions:

  • Why are you making the referral?
  • What should I expect from the visit to the specialist?
  • (If you're being referred to a specific specialist) What do you know about this particular doctor's background and experience?
  • What do I need to do to prepare for the appointment?
  • Will you contact the doctor ahead of my visit? Will your office send my records?

If you have a managed care insurance plan, find out if you need to obtain authorization from your insurance company before you meet with the specialist. If your doctor's office has paperwork for you to complete, fill it out before you leave the office so approval can be received in a timely manner before your appointment with the specialist.

Before you see another doctor, check his or her credentials and look at your other choices. For more information, see Choosing A Specialist.

After you see the specialist, be sure she sends notes of each visit and lab work to your primary care physician, and to your other doctors. Ask that a copy also be sent to you.

Don't forget to keep all your doctors up to date if there are changes.

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