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5 Smart Questions You Need to Ask Your Doctor

Healthy conversation starters for helpful answers

As you leave your doctor’s office, you think, “Oh, I forgot to ask…” It happens to all of us. That’s why in my previous post about making the most of your doctor’s appointment, I recommended writing your questions down. But what should those questions be?

You’ll have your own questions based on your personal health and conditions, but use these five as a starting point.

1. What do changes in my health mean?

Changes can include physical signs such as growths on the skin, shifting bowel habits, and unexpected weight gain or loss. But they can be mental and emotional as well, such as trouble sleeping or a nagging sadness. Bring up any and all changes, big or small. And do it early in the appointment so you and your doctor can use your appointment time wisely. Above all else, be honest!

“Doctors are not here just to help you when you get sick. We also want to help you be as healthy as possible to prevent health problems in the first place.”

Kathryn Teng

Kathryn Teng, MD

Center for Personalized Healthcare

2. Can you clarify the plan we just discussed?

You may not clearly understand everything a doctor tells you the first time. That’s OK — as long as you speak up and let us know. Don’t be timid. We want to make sure that you know exactly what to do, whether it relates to medication instructions, follow-up tests or lifestyle recommendations. And if your doctor asks you to repeat instructions, don’t be offended. That’s a helpful way to make sure you truly understand your next steps.

3. Does my family history bring up concerns?

Or, if you don’t know your family history, what are some tips for collecting it? Family health history is an important tool for predicting your risk for certain diseases, but many people do not know the health conditions that run in their families. Also, many believe that deceased family members’ health conditions don’t count. This is not true. It is important to know how old your ancestors were when they died — and how they died.

4. Can you help me reach my health goals?

Doctors are not here just to help you when you get sick. We also want to help you be as healthy as possible in the first place to prevent health problems. So make sure you ask your doctor to help you set and achieve health goals, from quitting smoking to losing a few pounds to exercising more. Preventive care is just as important as managing illness and disease — both for your body and for your wallet.

5. How can I learn more about my health concerns?

People learn differently. Some people like electronic learning tools and online information. Others prefer written handouts. If your doctor better understands the way you learn, he or she can tailor education and resources to you. Consider it one more way healthcare can be highly personalized.

Tags: doctor's appointment, family history, personalized healthcare
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Kathryn Teng, MD, is Director of the Center for Personalized Healthcare and leads Cleveland Clinic’s efforts to integrate personalized healthcare into standard practice.

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  • Kel Mohror

    Even more difficult than motivating a patient to ask these and other questions is enabling her / him to first remember and understand the answers, and second getting her / him to put the answers into action. Perhaps a simple, inexpensive digital audio recorder can be of service in this situation?