How many of you have had the experience of going to the doctor, having tons of medical questions about what is going on with your body, and then leaving the doctor appointment without asking any of them? Or leaving feeling more confused than when you went in? I know I have!… and I’m a physician myself! As a physician, let me give you advice on what you can do to more effectively ask a medical question. When you have questions to ask your doctor your goal is to ask in a way that gets your medical questions answered.
Here are 4 tips to get your medical questions answered.
Being at a doctor appointment can sometimes be overwhelming or emotional. We can feel stressed or scared. Try not to let the emotions of the moment get in the way of your goals (sometimes easier said than done!). Increase your chances of getting your medical questions answered. The more prepared you are prior to the appointment the more likely the questions to ask your doctor will be answered.
Tip #1. Write your medical questions down (and then don’t forget them at home)!
Be organized! Think about your questions before your doctor appointment and write them down. I’ve had the experience myself where I have questions but when I am in the office with the doctor I instantly forget what I wanted to ask. Or I only remember 1/2 of the questions. I remember the rest of them when I get back to my car. No matter how much you don’t think you will forget your questions, I still recommend writing them down.
Prioritize your medical questions in order of importance!
If you have several medical questions to ask prioritize them! This way if you are running out of time you can still ask the most important question and leave the rest for later. Otherwise, if you end up flustered you may not be able to effectively prioritize in that moment.
Take a picture of your medical question.
After you write down your question, take a picture of it so it is on your phone. You can also write your question in the “notes” section of your phone. You are less likely to walk out of the house without your phone than without your paper. This happens more than occasionally that patients try to be so organized but then leave the list at home on the table.
Tip #2. Let the doctor know at the start of the appointment that you have a couple of medical questions.
This is super helpful to us because then we can budget our time better and you will get more thorough answers. If a nurse or medical assistant checks you into your doctor’s appointment let them know you have questions. They will write on the intake sheet that you want to ask your doctor questions.
Believe me, I don’t want to end up talking about something else for the whole appointment only to find out with 1 minute left that my patient has 5 questions. I want to be able to answer all questions but now I am going to be rushed. I won’t be able to dedicate the time that I would like in order to give thorough explanations. Having the time to make sure you understand my reasoning is important to me!
Tip #3. Ask for a sooner follow-up doctor appointment.
Please understand that we want to answer all your questions but we are also limited by our schedule. If you have a complicated health issue, or many different medical questions, we may only be able to tackle one part at each appointment.
Ask if it is possible to have a sooner follow-up doctor appointment. This way, you will have more time and each question can be answered thoroughly.
Tip #4. Ask if there are other reliable sources your doctor recommends to get your medical question answered.
Ask your physician if they recommend certain resources to read more about your particular issue. Your doctor may have handouts or book recommendations that will give you a greater understanding of what is going on with your health.
There are great resources online but you have to be careful with what source you read!! There are many awful sites full of misinformation and untruths. Read here for more information on how to know if a site is a trusted source of medical information.
If you are looking for self-help mental health resources here are my best BOOK RECOMMENDATIONS.
Be informed. Ask your doctor questions.
I hope you feel better equipped to go into your next doctor appointment and ask the medical questions you need in order to take charge of your health. Be a team member. Be your best advocate! Make sure you know everything you can about your health and treatment recommendations so you can help figure out what is in your best interest.
Have a mental health question for me?
As I said in the last post, I can’t answer a question specific to one person but I can answer questions generally. I may even write a blog about your question if it requires more detail. Chances are if one person has a question other people do too! Sign up below to email me your mental health question.
A version of this article first appeared here.
Dr. Melissa Welby is a psychiatrist that participates in people’s process of discovery, empowerment, and search for satisfaction and happiness. She treats a variety of illnesses including depression, anxiety & panic attacks, adult ADHD (Attention Deficit / Hyperactivity Disorders), bipolar disorder, OCD (Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder) and borderline personality disorder. She is also the current president of the Connecticut Psychiatric Association.She completed her Internship & Residency at Cambridge Hospital, affiliate of Harvard Medical School, 2000 to 2004. Dr. Melissa Welby is Board Certified in General Psychiatry by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology, 2005 to present.