Questions to Ask Your Physician

What to Ask Your Doctor

When a person is first diagnosed with a serious illness, feelings of shock and stress may make it difficult to think of everything to ask the doctor. Often, it helps to make a list of questions. To help remember what the physician says, you may want to take notes or bring a family member or friend with you to your appointment.

Here are some questions you may want to ask the doctor before treatment begins. You may find it helpful to print out this list and bring it with you to your next office visit.

Calling Your Doctor:

At some point, you will probably need to call your doctor. Get the answers to these basic questions before that time comes:

  • What are your doctor's office hours?
  • Does the doctor work out of more than one office?
  • What is the best time to call?
  • What is the doctor's policy for returning calls?
  • Who should you speak with if the doctor isn't available?
  • What is the phone number for emergency calls or after-hours calls?

When you reach your doctor on the phone:

  • Tell your symptoms and problems. Write them down and keep the list by the phone so you don't have to remember them. (Have someone else call the doctor for you if you are unable to do it yourself.)
  • Report results of home tests or symptoms that you have been keeping track of such as a temperature of 101 degrees for more than a day.
  • Ask the doctor what to do. Be sure to write it down.
  • Have your pharmacist's phone number handy in case the doctor needs to prescribe any medications.
  • Ask the doctor if you should call back or come into the office.
  • Ask the doctor when you should go to the emergency room. Write down the symptoms to watch for.

Visiting Your Doctor

To help facilitate your doctor's appointments, be ready to give your doctor information about your health history. Make a list to take with you when you go to the doctor's office, including:

  • Health conditions that run in your family such as cancer, diabetes or high blood pressure.
  • Past illnesses and the medical treatment you received.
  • Past hospitalizations and any surgery you may have had.
  • Medications you currently take (names, dosages) as well as any medications you have taken in the past that caused severe side effects.
  • It's easy to forget everything you wanted to ask your doctor. Make a checklist to identify important questions you might wish to discuss.

Diagnosis and Treatment

  • Why do I have this problem? Ask the doctor to explain any medical terms you don't know.
  • How will this problem affect me in the future?
  • What treatment should I follow, including medical treatment or dietary and lifestyle changes?
  • What will happen if I don't treat my condition right away?
  • When do you want to see me again?

Tests

  • Do I need more testing? If so, what? How much do these tests cost and will my insurance cover it?
  • How often should I have these tests? Do I call to schedule the test or will your office do it for me?
  • How do I prepare for any tests I may need?
  • When and how will I get the test results?

Specialty Care

  • Should I see a specialist?
  • Does this specialist work out of more than one office?
  • Can you recommend a specialist? Is he or she board certified?
  • How soon should I be seen by this specialist?
  • What if I can't get an appointment for a month or more? Should I try to see someone else?

Fees

  • What will today's office visit cost me?
  • What will the fees be for other services? (Ask before you get the services.)
  • What does my health insurance cover?

Medications

  • Why do I need this particular medicine?
  • What is the name of the drug? How and when should I take it?
  • Are there any foods, drinks or other things I should avoid while taking this medicine?
  • What should I do if I forget to take it?
  • What are the known side effects? Is this drug known to cause birth defects? (Important for women who are pregnant or planning a future birth.)
  • How long will I have to take this medicine?
  • Is there a generic equivalent of this drug?
  • How will this new medicine interact with other drugs I'm currently taking?
  • Are there any non-drug measures that work as well?

Surgery

  • Do I need surgery at this time?
  • Who will do the surgery? How many times has this surgeon done the procedure?
  • When should I have this surgery?
  • What are my options? Ask about minimally invasive procedures versus major ones.
  • Do I have choices outside of surgery?
  • What are the benefits?
  • What are the risks?
  • Where will I have this surgery?
  • Can I have surgery as an outpatient?
  • Where can I get a second opinion? Certain insurance companies require another opinion. Find out what their rules are for surgery.

Courtesy of UCI Medical Center, Irvine, California