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Agency for Healthcare Research Quality

Talk With Your Doctor

I had trouble understanding what my doctor was telling me. The words were too technical, and there was too much to absorb. I finally asked her to slow down and keep it simple. That helped a lot.

—Dana, person with heart disease

Your Doctor Is Your Partner in Health Care

You probably have many questions about your disease or condition. The first person to ask is your doctor.

It is fine to seek more information from other sources; in fact, it is important to do so. But consider your doctor your partner in health care—someone who can discuss your situation with you, explain your options, and help you make decisions that are right for you.

It is not always easy to feel comfortable around doctors. But research has shown that good communication with your doctor can actually be good for your health. It can help you to:

  • Feel more satisfied with the care you receive.
  • Have better outcomes (end results), such as reduced pain and better recovery from symptoms.

Being an active member of your health care team also helps to reduce your chances of medical mistakes, and it helps you get high-quality care.

Of course, good communication is a two-way street. Here are some ways to help make the most of the time you spend with your doctor:

Prepare for Your Visit

  • Think about what you want to get out of your appointment. Write down all your questions and concerns. (Select for a list of suggested questions.)
  • Prepare and bring to your doctor visit a list of all the medicines you take.
  • Consider bringing along a trusted relative or friend. This person can help ask questions, take notes, and help you remember and understand everything once you leave the doctor's office.

Give Information to Your Doctor

  • Do not wait to be asked.
  • Tell your doctor everything he or she needs to know about your health—even the things that might make you feel embarrassed or uncomfortable.
  • Tell your doctor how you are feeling—both physically and emotionally.
  • Tell your doctor if you are feeling depressed or overwhelmed.

Get Information from Your Doctor

  • Ask questions about anything that concerns you. Keep asking until you understand the answers. If you do not, your doctor may think you understand everything that is said.
  • Ask your doctor to draw pictures if that will help you understand something.
  • Take notes.
  • Tape record your doctor visit, if that will be helpful to you. But first ask your doctor if this is okay.
  • Ask your doctor to recommend resources such as Web sites, booklets, or tapes with more information about your disease or condition.

Go to: Ten Important Questions to Ask Your Doctor After a Diagnosis.

Do Not Hesitate To Seek a Second Opinion

A second opinion is when another doctor examines your medical records and gives his or her views about your condition and how it should be treated.

You might want a second opinion to:

  • Be clear about what you have.
  • Know all of your treatment choices.
  • Have another doctor look at your choices with you.

It is not pushy or rude to want a second opinion. Most doctors will understand that you need more information before making important decisions about your health.

Check to see whether your health plan covers a second opinion. In some cases, health plans require second opinions.

Here are some ways to find a doctor for a second opinion:

  • Ask your doctor. Request someone who does not work in the same office, because doctors who work together tend to share similar views.
  • Contact your health plan or your local hospital, medical society, or medical school.
  • Use the DoctorFinder online service of the American Medical Association. Go to:

Get Information About Next Steps

  • Get the results of any tests or procedures. Discuss the meaning of these results with your doctor.
  • Make sure you understand what will happen if you need surgery.
  • Talk with your doctor about which hospital is best for your health care needs.

Finally, if you are not satisfied with your doctor, you can do two things:

  1. Talk with your doctor and try to work things out.
  2. Switch doctors, if you are able to.

It is very important to feel confident about your care.

Go to Where to Find More Information to learn more and for additional resources.

Ten Important Questions to Ask Your Doctor After a Diagnosis

These 10 basic questions can help you understand your disease or condition, how it might be treated, and what you need to know and do before making treatment decisions.

1. What is the technical name of my disease or condition, and what does it mean in plain English?


2. What is my prognosis (outlook for the future)?


3. How soon do I need to make a decision about treatment?


4. Will I need any additional tests, and if so what kind and when?


5. What are my treatment options?


6. What are the pros and cons of my treatment options?


7. Is there a clinical trial (research study) that is right for me?


8. Now that I have this diagnosis, what changes will I need to make in my daily life?


9. What organizations do you recommend for support and information?


10. What resources (booklets, Web sites, audiotapes, videos, DVDs, etc.) do you recommend for further information?


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