Questions To Ask Your Doctor

By asking these essential health questions during your doctor’s visit, you can foster open communication, gain a deeper understanding of your health condition and treatment options, and actively participate in your healthcare journey. Remember, your health is your most valuable asset, and being proactive and informed is key to maintaining it.

What to ask your doctor at your next appointment

When you go to the doctor, it’s often for a specific problem, such as ongoing sinus congestion or a nagging back or nerve pain that won’t let up. But it’s also an opportunity to learn more about what’s going on in your body, understand why you’re receiving a specific treatment and find out how you can be as healthy as possible.

Frequently, with brief doctor’s appointments and patients’ haste to be seen for whatever ails them, patients miss the opportunity to ask doctors key questions about their overall health and well-being.

However, it’s important to take advantage of the short amount of time with the one person who can decipher your blood test results, explain how to best manage an ongoing disease or directly address your deepest – but often unspoken – bodily concerns. Patients may also hesitate to ask a doctor a question about basic issues within the medical practice that would make office visits go more smoothly.

To make the most out of your next appointment, here are 10 questions to ask your doctor:

NEXT:What preventive care services are right for me?
doctor doing the covid 19 vaccine at home for omicron variant



What preventive care services are right for me?

Preventive care is intended to target disease prevention and keep the patient healthy, so it’s important to learn about how to stay ahead of health conditions before they become a more serious concern.

“I would like to hear more patients ask about preventive care,” says Dr. Lisa Ravindra, an associate professor in the department of internal medicine and a primary care physician at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. “That means not only discussing current guidelines on age-appropriate tests and vaccines, but also talking about ways in which lifestyle factors, like activity level and diet, can help prevent many conditions.”

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, an independent panel of medical experts, does extensive research to determine which preventive measures are most important and potentially lifesaving for specific age groups and genders. You can search the USPSTF recommendations by topic online.

Preventive health care includes a range of services and health screenings, such as:

  • A wellness exam, which is a routine annual visit to your doctor to evaluate overall wellness and often includes a physical exam. For example, your doctor may check your heart rate and blood pressure, listen to your breathing, test your reflexes and check your skin for irregular moles or freckles.
  • Blood pressure, diabetes and cholesterol tests.
  • Cancer screenings, such as mammograms to screen for breast cancer, colonoscopies for colorectal cancer and pap smears for cervical cancer.
  • Immunizations, like the yearly flu vaccine or whether you need a tetanus shot update or shingles vaccine.

Immunization guidelines are typically clear-cut, with the notable exception of continually updated COVID-19 recommendations.

“That’s been a little bit of a moving target,” says Dr. Samuel Durso, a geriatrician and professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins Medicine in Baltimore.

Doctors and patients alike can go online and view standard vaccination recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as the CDC’s most recent information on COVID-19 vaccines and boosters. It’s also important to ask your doctor if you have a symptom or medical condition that may affect particular immunization guidance.

Most health care plans are required by law to provide coverage for preventive health services at no cost to the patient. Discuss with your health care provider and insurance company to understand which services are covered by your plan.

NEXT:How does my family history affect my risk for certain conditions?
Experienced Middle Aged Family Doctor Showing Analysis Results on Tablet Computer to Male Patient During Consultation in a Health Clinic. Physician Sitting Behind a Desk in Hospital Office.



How does my family history affect my risk for certain conditions?

It’s important to discuss family medical history with your doctor. Some medical conditions affect multiple family members across generations. If first-degree relatives – such as a parent or sibling – or even more distant relatives have heart disease, an autoimmune disease or some types of cancer, you could have an increased risk of that condition.

More advanced genetic testing is now available for conditions that run in families, such as BRCA1 and BRCA2, gene mutations related to breast, ovarian, pancreatic and prostate cancer, as well as some hereditary colon cancers.

“Knowing this information can be lifesaving,” Ravindra says.

To prepare for your next appointment, compile a detailed family health history. Gather information that includes details about chronic health conditions, genetic disorders or any specific illnesses that closely connected relatives – including parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins – may have experienced. Try to be as specific and detailed as possible, including:

  • Their relation to you.
  • Type of illness or condition.
  • Age of onset.
  • Relevant treatment or management.
  • Lifestyle factors, such as tobacco use if there’s a history of lung cancer.

Depending on your family history, your doctor may refer you to a genetic counselor to perform genetic tests, or they may recommend early screening, like starting to get regular colonoscopies before age 45 if colon cancer runs in your family.

NEXT:How can I manage my symptoms?
Shot of a young woman experiencing stomach pain while lying on a sofa at home



How can I manage my symptoms?

If you have a chronic medical condition, particularly if you’re dealing with symptoms that affect your daily life, routine appointments with your doctor alone may not be enough. Asking your doctor for strategies to manage your symptoms helps you find relief and maintain your well-being between visits – keeping you out of the hospital in severe cases.

When you have congestive heart failure, for instance, you might need periodic check-ins by a nurse to monitor your blood pressure and weight, make sure your legs aren’t swelling from excess fluid and you’re not experiencing shortness of breath.

Many people with diabetes benefit from speaking with a certified diabetes educator or registered dietitian, as needed, for expert advice on medications or nutrition in the moment.

“You might ask doctors how they’re paired up with social work, dietitians and therapists,” Durso says.

It’s also important to know the best way to get in touch with your doctor’s office if you experience any symptom flare-ups or issues between visits. Each medical practice has its own processes and procedures. Being aware of the basics – like office hours, navigating their online communication portal or the intricacies of obtaining test results – allows you to navigate communication more smoothly.

NEXT:How can lifestyle changes improve my health and/or condition?
Group of six people mixed age people making yoga pose in public park in city for fitness, sport, yoga and healthy lifestyle concept



How can lifestyle changes improve my health and/or condition?

When discussing how your lifestyle impacts your overall health or a certain condition, it’s important to approach the conversation collaboratively and open-mindedly.

Being upfront and honest about your current lifestyle is key. This will help your doctor pinpoint areas that may be important to improve upon. Your doctor may discuss:

Getting a good night’s sleep is often overlooked. But it doesn’t just improve your mood the next day; if you’re experiencing insomnia, it can impact your physical and mental health. Sleep deprivation has been linked in studies to increased long-term risk of obesity, diabetes and heart disease, and shorter-term risks like coming down with a common cold.

Sleep also plays a major factor in cognitive performance. Disrupted or fragmented sleep, or an irregularly timed sleep schedule can affect your mood. According to an article published in the peer-reviewed journal Pharmacy and Therapeutics, studies have shown that inadequate sleep can affect your daily performance, working memory and ability to process information, and it can impact your emotional interpretation of events and exacerbate stress levels.

Let your doctor know if you’re having trouble sleeping and ask how sleep affects your health, Ravindra advises. That opens the conversation to possible causes of sleep deprivation that can be addressed through lifestyle changes or other means.

NEXT:Why are you prescribing this medication?
Female pharmacist checking medicines on rack. Chemist examining the medicines at drugstore. Focus on medicine boxes on the shelf.



Why are you prescribing this medication?

Patients often blindly take prescription medications without asking any questions, but you deserve more information from your doctor.

Open communication is key to improving doctor-patient relationships. Not only is it important to understand why you’re receiving the drug, but your doctor should also communicate with you about:

  • Dosage.
  • Instructions, like whether to take a drug on an empty stomach.
  • Benefits and side effects.
  • What to do if you experience side effects.
  • Potential interactions with other medications you take.

When patients ask why they’re being given a certain medication, it’s an opportunity for the doctor and patient to have an open conversation about treatment. It helps patients understand what they’re taking and why they’re taking it. You can also request written information about the medication to refer back to later.

You may also want to ask if you or your child really need an antibiotic. Parents will often bring their child into the doctor’s office because of a cold and expect the physician to write a prescription for an antibiotic, even though it’s not necessary and will not cure a cold. This is not only careless, but it has also led to a rise in antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

“Physicians often feel the need to prescribe an antibiotic to appease the parent,” says Dr. Stanley Spinner, chief medical officer of Texas Children’s Pediatrics and Texas Children’s Urgent Care in Houston. “Such a question from the parent regarding the need for an antibiotic will lessen the likelihood that an antibiotic may be prescribed for a condition that is likely to resolve on its own.”

Antibiotics are largely intended and effective for bacterial infections. For most viral infections, symptoms will resolve on their own, but effective antivirals are available in some cases. For example, your doctor may prescribe the well-known Tamiflu, an antiviral that – if prescribed within the first 48 hours of flu symptom onset – can help shorten the time of illness.

NEXT:How many patients with my condition have you treated?
Doctor talking to patient at hospital room with digital tablet



How many patients with my condition have you treated?

Having confidence in your doctor means you’re more likely to follow their instructions. Asking about their previous experience with your condition is a great way to ensure that you’re getting the best treatment you can. Having experience is critical in managing complex cases for many conditions, such as cancer.

Start by inquiring how familiar they are with treating patients with your condition, or ask them to share their experiences managing patient cases similar to yours, if they’re comfortable. This helps open the conversation, leading to more in-depth questions about the number of patients or outcome of their treatments.

Another question to ask is: “If it were your family member, would you recommend this to them?”

That allows doctors to recontextualize a routine professional discussion to one on a more human, relatable level, giving your doctor an opportunity to shift their perspective.

“Sometimes you have to remind yourself, ‘I have a mother, I have a wife, I have a sister. Would I want this for them?'” says Dr. Tia Guster, an OB-GYN with Piedmont Healthcare in Newnan, Georgia.

NEXT:Can we discuss ‘X’ sexual or reproductive health concerns?
Doctor with a patient



Can we discuss ‘X’ sexual or reproductive health concerns?

Even in this day and age, many people are still reluctant to discuss intimate health concerns. However, it’s hard to shock or surprise your doctor, who has likely heard it all.

“People are so embarrassed to talk about sex,” Guster says. “But you should talk about sex because you’re probably not the only one having a problem with it.”

No need to mumble or use discreet euphemisms. Instead, it’s better to be direct and straight to the point.

“We’re used to hearing about all the body parts with all kinds of different names,” Guster advises. “You will not be offensive to us. If you try to filter it for us, sometimes we may miss what you ask.”

For example, Guster says, people hesitate to ask about or describe vaginal discharge, but your doctor won’t be put off. In fact, they want to hear about it. While some descriptions of discharge are normal, some are not.

“Just tell me what it is, and I can tell you if this is on the line or not,” Guster says.

Similarly, men should feel free to ask their urologists or primary care providers about any type of discharge or symptoms of concern.

Continence is another concern that patients sometimes hesitate to voice.

“A lot of people are very chary about mentioning that they don’t go out too much because they’re afraid they can’t get to the bathroom, particularly if they’ve been put on medicines like diuretics,” Durso says. “Doctors should bring that up.”

Either way, speaking up about this common issue can help solve the problem.

NEXT:Am I understood?
Hospital health care and medicine.



Am I understood?

Physicians and patients alike can benefit from asking, “Am I understood?”

Communication poses a big barrier to getting great care, but knowing how to talk to your doctor effectively isn’t always intuitive. With fast-moving appointments and medical jargon in the mix, it can feel like doctors and patients aren’t taking part in the same conversation.

“The most important question that patients should ask is, ‘Do you understand what I said?'” Guster says.

Sometimes, patients say they’ll relate a concern to a physician who may then come back with a response that doesn’t fit the patient’s meaning or need, Guster says.

If you don’t feel like you can communicate freely and openly with your doctor, it may be a sign you need to find a new physician.

NEXT:Can we talk about how to plan for end-of-life care?
Caucasian doctor comforting patient in hospital bed



Can we talk about how to plan for end-of-life care?

End-of-life care, also known as palliative care, is a critical aspect of health care that focuses on providing comfort, dignity and support to individuals.

Particularly for elderly patients and those with chronic illnesses, it’s important to ask and discuss end-of-life care options, as well as to address advanced care planning. Establishing an advance health care directive may include designating a health care proxy or medical power of attorney for health care and documenting health care preferences, which spell out choices such as whether you want interventions – like CPR, mechanical ventilation or tube feeding – and under what conditions.

Starting end-of-life discussions can feel uncomfortable. But having these conversations when you’re healthy – rather than when a crisis is occurring – helps establish your wishes at a time when you can effectively communicate to your doctor what’s important to you.

“This can help ensure (patients’) priorities are followed through on – whether that’s aggressive means to prolong life or comfort care when the time comes,” Ravindra says.

Having plans set in place can also avoid crisis decision-making down the road and ease the burden on family members, ensuring they won’t be faced with difficult decisions about your health or end-of-life care. You can also revisit and update your preferences at any time.

NEXT:Do I need a follow-up visit and, if so, when?
Close up of a young Caucasian woman having an Asian doctor's appointment at medical clinic.



Do I need a follow-up visit and, if so, when?

If your doctor has ordered any diagnostic testing or procedures, you should ask about when to expect the results and whether a follow-up visit is necessary. Your doctor may want to set up another time to share the findings of your tests or discuss a treatment plan.

Similarly, if you have a chronic condition like diabetes, your doctor or endocrinologist may want to see you more often than once a year. They may recommend more regular visits to manage medication, complete blood tests and generally monitor your health status.

But doctor visits shouldn’t be relegated to the times you’re sick. Work together with your primary care physician to create a personalized health plan that works for you, which may guide the frequency of visits or include a virtual doctor’s appointment.

NEXT:Get the most out of your doctor’s visit
Happy pregnant woman visit gynecologist doctor at hospital or medical clinic for pregnancy consultant. Doctor examine pregnant belly for baby and mother healthcare check up. Gynecology concept.



Get the most out of your doctor’s visit

Your interactions with your doctor extend far beyond addressing immediate health concerns. By asking the right medical questions, you empower yourself to take charge of your health and create a strong partnership with your health care provider.

You shouldn’t hesitate to ask your primary care physician about anything related to your health.

“For instance, a patient who has finger numbness may have Googled their symptoms and be worried about stroke or diabetes as a cause,” Ravindra says. “However, a thorough exam and asking the right questions on my end will easily differentiate these serious conditions from something more benign like carpal tunnel syndrome.”

In addition, Ravindra encourages patients to be upfront with your fears. That way, physicians know what’s really on your mind and can address your concerns head-on.

So, next time you step into the doctor’s office, remember that proactive communication is the key to quality health care and that it’s a two-way street.

NEXT:10 questions to ask doctors:
Male doctor sitting with female patient by window.



10 questions to ask doctors:

  1. What preventive care services are right for me?
  2. How does my family history affect my risk for certain conditions?
  3. How can I manage my symptoms?
  4. How can lifestyle changes improve my health and/or condition?
  5. Why are you prescribing this medication?
  6. How many patients with my condition have you treated?
  7. Can we discuss ‘X’ sexual or reproductive health concerns?
  8. Am I understood?
  9. Can we talk about how to plan for end-of-life care?
  10. Do I need a follow-up visit and, if so, when?