Getting to Know Your Doctor

Getting to Know Your Doctor

Developing a good relationship with your doctor is important. In fact, it’s one of the best things you do for your wellbeing. Working closely together, you’ll map out a plan to take care of any health issues or concerns you may. It might sound simple, but healthy communication really is key to your good health.

Still, when you’re actually face-to-face with your doctor, all your good intentions may fly out the window. That’s why it’s smart to spend a little time preparing for your visit ahead of time.

Get ready to see your doctor.

Here are some tips to help you prep so you can make the most of your time with your doctor. Start by making lists and notes to help you remember everything you want and need to say. Sure, some symptoms or questions may be hard to bring up or talk about. Write down some keywords you can use to get started. Your notes should include:

  • Your health history: Include past illnesses, injuries, diseases, allergies and anything that has affected your health. Be sure to mention your family’s health history.
  • A list of symptoms: Where does it hurt? How badly does it hurt? Does it get better or worse with activity? Does rest help? Do foods you eat make a difference? When did the symptoms begin?
  • Questions you want to ask: Some questions you’ll know ahead of time. Some questions will pop up as you talk with your doctor.

Need some inspiration? Here are 15 questions to help kick start the conversation:

  1. Will your services, treatment and surgery be covered by my health insurance?
  2. Are you in my health insurance plan’s network?
  3. How accurate and safe are the tests you want to run?
  4. Can you tell me about your training and experience? What about your staff?
  5. How did you reach my diagnosis?
  6. Are there other possible causes for my symptoms?
  7. Do I need to change my day-to-day habits?
  8. Is there more than one treatment option?
  9. Is it likely that the treatment will work?
  10. How safe is this treatment?
  11. How can I be sure the treatment is working?
  12. If surgery is recommended, what are the risks?
  13. What are the side effects of the drug you want to prescribe?
  14. Are there generic drugs that are just as effective as the name-brand?
  15. How can I reach you or your staff if I have follow-up questions
Help your doctor help you.

When you are open and honest, it helps your care provider with:

  • Diagnosis: Figuring out the problem is the first step to treating it. There are many different health issues that can cause the same symptoms. Tell your doctor how you feel and if you’ve felt this way before. Talk about the places you’ve been and what you’ve been doing recently. Some environments can affect your health in ways you may not know.
  • Testing: Your doctor may need to run tests. Ask your doctor or the staff about tests they recommend. Some tests are simple. Others may require some preparation. You may also need someone to be with you. Ask about any potential risks, when you’ll get results and how they’ll be explained to you.
  • Treatment: Sometimes you may have choices. You may need to change what you eat or how active you are. You may need to take a new medicine or consider surgery. Ask your doctor about any possible risks. Ask yourself, is there anything stopping you from following your doctor’s instructions? If so, be sure to tell your doctor.
  • Medicines: Sometimes your doctor may prescribe medicine. Tell your doctor if you’ve ever had a bad reaction to certain medicines. Ask the doctor if the medicine being prescribed could have side effects. Be sure to tell your doctor if you are currently taking any medicines, vitamins or supplements. Medicines do not always work well together.
  • Cost: Remember to ask your doctor if he or she is in your health insurance plan’s network. If you are covered by a PPO plan, your costs will be higher if the provider is not in your network. If you’re covered by an HMO plan, then your primary care physician (PCP) directs all of your health care. Before seeing any specialist, you’ll need to see your PCP to get a referral. Be sure to always ask for an in-network specialist. You can always call your health plan if you have questions your PCP couldn’t answer. Use the phone number on the back of your member ID card to reach Customer Service.
Bring these items to your doctor’s visit.
  • Current medications: A list of drugs is a great start, but if you can, you should bring in actual prescription drug and over-the-counter supplement bottles. The labels will give the doctor more detail.
  • Records: Include records from previous tests and procedures – even X-rays. Written test results and surgery reports often have helpful notes for your doctor. You can always ask for a copy of your files from the previous doctors you’ve seen.
  • Another person: Bring a trusted friend or relative with you if you're worried.

Remember, don’t feel shy or embarrassed about asking questions or repeating the doctor’s answers. It shows your that you care about your health. If you have follow-up questions or need clarification about something after your visit, reach out to your doctor’s office – even if it’s questioning something that doesn’t appear to be correct on your Explanation of Benefits.

Sources: How to Prepare for a Doctor’s Appointment, leaving site icon National Institute on Aging, 2020; Roadmap to Better Care, leaving site icon, 2018; Don’t Be Shy: 4 Tips for Talking to Your Doctor, leaving site icon John Hopkins Medicine, 2022

Originally published 4/15/2015; Revised 2023