“Run that by me again?” Asking the Right Questions About Your Health
You go to your healthcare provider for answers—but sometimes it can feel like you’re racing the clock to get them. On average, you’ll spend around 18 minutes with your provider during a visit. That’s not a lot of time, especially if you’re feeling worried about your health or confused about what you’re hearing. So it’s important to ask questions—and to stick around until you get the answers you need.
What Should I Ask?
The questions you ask will depend on what your provider says during your visit, but you can start with the basics. If possible, take notes on the answers—or consider asking your provider if it’s okay to record the conversation with your smartphone so you can play it back later.
Questions about your diagnosis
- You want to have a clear picture of the way an illness or injury may affect your life and health:
- What causes this type of problem?
- If this is a one-time illness or injury, are there things I can do to keep it from happening again?
- If this condition could last a while or be permanent, what kind of follow-up care do I need? When should I schedule my next visit with you?
- What symptoms mean my condition is getting worse? What should I do if I have them?
- And don’t be afraid to say you want a second opinion before you start treatment. For life-threatening illnesses or non-emergency surgeries, it’s a good idea to have another provider confirm your diagnosis.
Questions about your HIV diagnosis
If you’ve learned that you are living with HIV, there are some specific questions you need to ask:
- What do my lab tests say about the health of my immune system?
- How will you keep track of how well my immune system is working?
- What can I do to prevent complications (like opportunistic infections) and stay healthy?
- Are there any daily habits I should consider changing to help me stay healthy?
- How can I keep from passing HIV to others?
Questions about a new prescription or treatment
New meds and treatments can turn your world upside down—in both good and bad ways. Be sure you understand how the new approach is supposed to help you, and what to do if things aren’t working out:
- How long will I need to take this new medication or follow this new treatment?
- When can I expect to start feeling better or see improvement in my health?
- Should I take this medication with food or is it better to take it on an empty stomach?
- What kind of side effects could this drug/treatment have? Could it interfere with something I’m already taking or doing?
- Are there things I should avoid while I’m taking this medication/treatment? Activities (including exercise and sex)? Certain foods? Alcohol/liquor?
- If I’m noticing side effects, what should I do? Call you? Go to the emergency room?
- What happens if I miss a dose of my meds? Can I double up on the dosage?
- What if I can’t follow the prescribed directions for meds or treatment because of my schedule or other reasons? How can we make this work for me?
Questions about how to connect with your provider after your visit
We tend to think health care is what happens in a doctor’s office—but it shouldn’t end when you leave the examining room. Communicating with your provider, both in and out of the office, is a key part of getting great care. Here are some quick questions that can help you stay connected and engaged:
- Could you print out the information you’ve given me today—or send it to me by email or text?
- If I need to talk with you specifically, how can I get in touch with you?
- Do you return calls during the work day? If so, do you have a particular time you do that?
- Do you answer emails from patients? If so, would you share your email address with me?
- May I call or text you after hours?