How to talk to your doctor or nurse

Waiting in a doctor’s office or health clinic can make you feel nervous, impatient, or even scared. Knowing how to talk to your doctor, nurse, and other members of your health care team will help you get the medical care and information you need.

Prepare for your visit.

Call before your visit to tell the office about any special needs you may have. If you don’t speak or understand English well, the office may need to find an interpreter. If you have a disability, ask if they can accommodate you.

Before your appointment, make a list of the questions you want to ask. Also bring a list of your medications, including prescription drugs and over-the-counter medicines, vitamins, herbal products, and other supplements you’re taking. Your list should include the name and strength of the medication, along with how often you take it.

Make a list of your previous and current illnesses and conditions, as well as those that run in your family.  This will assist your provider in collecting a history and formulating a treatment plan.

Consider bringing along a family member or trusted friend. That person can take notes, offer moral support, and help you remember what was discussed during your visit.

Be thorough.

Describe your symptoms to the nurse or doctor. Explain when the symptoms started, how they make you feel, and what you’ve done to feel better.

Be honest about your diet, physical activity, smoking habits, alcohol or drug use, and sexual history. Describe any allergies to drugs, foods, pollen, or other allergens. Withholding information from your doctor or nurse can be harmful! And, don’t leave something out or skip important details because you’re worried about taking up too much time.

Learn more.

If you are diagnosed with a condition, ask how you can learn more about it. What caused it? Is it permanent? What can you do to help yourself feel better?

If your health care provider recommends testing, get instructions on what you need to do to get ready for the tests. Ask how long it will take to get the results.

Also ask your doctor or nurse about any treatments he or she recommends — especially medicines prescribed for you. Make sure you understand how to take your medicine and what you should do if you miss a dose. Are there any foods, drugs, or activities you should avoid when taking the medicine? Is there a generic brand of the drug you can use? You can ask also your pharmacist if generic options are available for any medications you’ve been prescribed.

Ask more questions if you don’t understand something. If you’re not clear about what your doctor or nurse is asking you to do or why, ask to have it explained again. Be sure to talk about all of your concerns before you leave. If you don’t understand the answers, ask again so you can understand how to take care of your health.

Haven’t seen your doctor in a while? Make an appointment now or find a doctor here.