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Welcome to the Senior Health Section of RetirementCommunity.com. This easy-to-use website features health and wellness information for older adults from the National Institutes of Health.

 

Talking with Your Doctor

Asking Questions

Asking questions is key to good communication with your doctor. If you don't ask questions, your doctor may think you do not need or want more information. Asking questions helps your doctor know what is important to you. It also lets your doctor know when something he or she says is unclear.

Man with question mark in his arms entering his doctors office.There are many types of questions you may want to ask your doctor. For example, ask questions when you do not know the meaning or spelling of a word, like aneurysm or infarct. Also, it is important to ask questions when instructions are not clear. For example, what does taking medicine with food mean -- before, during, or after a meal?

Asking Questions - Asking About Your Diagnosis

Your diagnosis is what your doctor thinks is your health problem. Most times your doctor will make the diagnosis based on what you say are your symptoms and the results of a physical exam, lab tests, and other medical tests.

Understanding your health problem can help you make decisions about what you would like to do about it. Also, if you know how the health problem may affect your life and activities and what may happen if the condition gets worse, you will be better able to deal with the problem.

Here are some questions you may want to ask your doctor about your health problem.

  • What is the name of the condition? How do you spell it?
  • Why do you think I have this health problem? What may have caused it?
  • How long may this problem last? Will it be forever?

Other questions you may want to ask your doctor about your health problem:

  • How will this problem affect me? Will I need to change some of my activities?
  • Are there long-term effects of this problem?
  • Can my health problem be cured? How can it be treated or managed, made better?
  • How can I learn more about my condition?
Quiz

1. Asking your doctor questions is

A. important for good communication.
B. not helpful to your doctor.
C. not helpful to you.

A is the correct answer. Asking questions is important for good communication with your doctor. It lets your doctor know when he or she needs to explain something better. It also lets your doctor know what is important to you about your health.

2. A diagnosis is

A. a type of medication.
B. a type of medical test.
C. your health problem.

C is the correct answer. Your diagnosis is what your doctor thinks is your health problem, based on what you say your symptoms are and the results of a physical exam, lab tests, and other medical tests.

3. Knowing the name of my health problem

A. is not important as long as my doctor knows it.
B. is sometimes important.
C. is always important.

C is the correct answer. Knowing the name of your health problem is an important first step for understanding it.

4. "Why do you think I have this health problem?" is

A. an important question to ask your doctor.
B. is a useless question.
C. is a silly question

A is the correct answer. It is important to ask your doctor why you have a health problem because it may be helpful to know what might have caused it. You also may want to ask about how long the problem might last and if there is anything you can do to improve or cure the condition.


Asking Questions - Asking About Your Medications

Your doctor may prescribe a medicine for your health problem. Make sure you know the name and spelling of the drug and understand why your doctor wants you to take it. Ask your doctor to write down how often and for how long you should take it. If you will need to get more of the medicine once you have used it up, ask how to get the medicine refilled.

It is important to ask your doctor what changes you need to make when taking the medication. For instance, ask "Are there foods, drinks, other medications, or activities I should avoid while taking this medication?"

Chart with prescription information.Many medicines have special instructions for how to take them. For example, there may be a certain time of the day that you should take the medicine. You may want to ask your doctor, "Should I take my medicine at meals or between meals?" and "Do I need to take the medicine on an empty stomach or with food or a whole glass of water?" Also, ask your doctor what you should do if you forget to take your medicine and miss a dose.

Sometimes medicines affect older people differently than younger people. You may want to ask when the medicine will begin to work. Also, ask your doctor what are common side effects or unwanted feelings or symptoms you may have while taking the medicine. Let your doctor know if the medicine does not seem to be working or is causing you problems. If you want to stop taking a medicine, check with your doctor first.

Call to let your primary doctor know as soon as possible if another doctor prescribes a medication for you. Also, call to check with your doctor before taking any over-the-counter medications. It may be helpful to keep a list of all the prescription and over-the-counter medicines you take and when you take them.

Your pharmacist also can help answer your questions about medications, including what the label on the medicine bottle means. Also, if asked, your pharmacist can put your medicines in easy-to-open containers and may be able to use large-print labels.

Because the pharmacy keeps a record of the prescription medications you get there, it may be helpful to get all your prescriptions from the same pharmacy. That way, they have a complete record of all your prescription medicines.

For more about medicines, click here to go to the Taking Medicines topic at http://nihseniorhealth.gov/takingmedicines/toc.html.

Quiz

1. If a specialist prescribes a medication for me,

A. I should let my primary doctor know as soon as possible.
B. I do not need to tell my regular doctor.
C. I should not take the medication.

A is the correct answer. If a specialist prescribes a medication for you, call to let your primary doctor know as soon as possible. It is important for your primary doctor to know all the prescription and over-the-counter medications you take. Some medicines should not be taken together.

2. Before you take a medicine, you should talk to your doctor to find out

A. if there are any foods or drinks you should not have while taking it.
B. if you should take the medicine with or without a meal.
C. if there are any activities you should avoid while taking the medication.
D. all of the above

D is the correct answer. Many medicines have special instructions. Make sure that you make notes about any special instructions before taking the medication.

3. If a medication is causing me problems, I should

A. ignore the unwanted feelings or symptoms.
B. talk to my doctor before I stop taking the medicine.
C. not bother my doctor and just stop taking the medicine for a few days.

B is the correct answer. If a medication is causing you problems, talk to your doctor before you stop taking it. Sometimes medications can cause you to have unwanted feelings or symptoms. Your doctor may have something to help with the side effects.

4. In addition to my doctor, I can learn more about my medications from

A. my family.
B. my friends.
C. my pharmacist.

C is the correct answer. Your pharmacist can answer questions about your medications. Your pharmacist can also put your medicines in easy-to-open bottles.


Asking Questions - Asking About Medical Tests

There are different reasons why you may need a medical test. Sometimes a doctor does a test, such as taking your blood or giving you an x-ray, to find out what is wrong or to learn more about your health condition. Some tests, like cancer screenings, are done regularly to check for hidden medical problems.

Before you have a medical test, ask your doctor to explain why you need it, what it will show about your health, what it will cost, and if your health insurance will cover the costs. Also, ask what you need to do to get ready for the test. For example, you may not be able to eat before the medical test.

Here are some other questions to ask your doctor about medical tests.

  • How is the test done? What steps does the medical test involve?
  • Are there any dangers or side effects?
  • How will I find out the results of my test? How long will it take to get the results?
  • What will we know after the test?

When the results of the test are ready, make sure the doctor tells you what they are and explains what they mean. You may want to ask your doctor for a written copy of the test results. If the test is done by someone other than your regular doctor, like a specialist, ask to have the results sent to your primary doctor.

Quiz

1. Some medical tests are done even if you feel fine.

TRUE is the correct answer. Some medical tests are done regularly, even if you feel fine, just to make sure that you do not have any hidden health problems. These tests are called screenings. Medical tests also can be done to find out what is wrong when you have something bothering you or to learn more about your health condition.

2. You do not need to find out why your doctor wants you to have a medical test.

FALSE is the correct answer. Before you have a medical test, ask your doctor to explain why you need it and what it will show about your health.

3. It is important for your doctor to explain the results of your medical tests.

TRUE is the correct answer. Ask your doctor how you will find out your medical test results and how long it will take to get them. When the results of your medical test are ready, ask the doctor to explain what they mean.

4. If a medical test is done by someone other than your regular doctor, you should have the results sent to your doctor.

TRUE is the correct answer. Your primary doctor should have a record of all the medical tests you have had and the results of the tests.

Asking Questions - Remembering the Answers

No matter what your age, it is easy to forget a lot of what your doctor says. Also, sometimes what your doctor says may be hard to understand. As your doctor gives you information about your health, it is a good idea to make sure that you understand it and that you will be able to remember it.

Always ask your doctor about anything he or she says that seems unclear. You might say, "I want to make sure I understand. Could you explain a little more?" or "I didn't understand that word. What does it mean?" You may also find it helpful to repeat back to your doctor what he or she says using your own words and ask if you are correct.

Ask if your doctor has any written information or DVDs, CDs, cassettes, or videotapes about your health condition and/or treatment. Also, ask your doctor about other places where you can get more information to help you understand, such as websites or health organizations.

Sometimes your doctor may want you to talk to another member of the health care team about your condition. These people may be better able to explain the health problem and help you make decisions about what to do about it. These people, such as nurses and physician assistants, may also be able to spend more time with you than your doctor.

List for your doctor's visit.Taking notes during your doctor visit can help you remember what you and your doctor talk about. Take along a notepad and pen or pencil, and write down your doctor's main points or ask your doctor to write them down for you. If you cannot write while the doctor is talking to you, make notes in the waiting room after your visit. Some doctors may allow you to audiotape record your visit if you do not want to, or cannot, take notes.

If you are not sure about what your doctor said to do about your health after you get home, call his or her office. A nurse or other staff member can check with your doctor and call you back. You can also ask if your doctor or someone else on the health care team you have talked to has an e-mail address you can use to send questions.

Quiz

1. It is easy to forget what your doctor says

A. only at a young age.
B. only when you are older.
C. at any age.

C is the correct answer. No matter what your age, it is easy to forget a lot of what your doctor says. Writing down notes about your doctor's main points or audiotape recording your visit can help you to remember.

2. If something that your doctor says seems unclear,

A. assume your doctor will explain it more later.
B. always ask your doctor to explain it more clearly.
C. it is not important as long as your doctor understands.

B is the correct answer. Sometimes what your doctor says may be hard to understand. Always ask your doctor to explain what is unclear to you. Your doctor may not realize that what he or she is saying is confusing. You may find it useful to repeat back to your doctor what he or she says using your own words, and then ask if you are correct.

3. Taking notes during your doctor visit

A. is a way to help you remember what you and your doctor talked about.
B. is rude and disrespectful.
C. is not a useful way to spend your doctor visit.

A is the correct answer. You may find it helpful to bring a pen or pencil and notepad with you to your doctor visit and write down what your doctor says. If you cannot write while your doctor is talking, you can write your notes in the waiting room after your visit.

4. If you forget what your doctor said to do about your health after you get home,

A. wait a few days to see if you remember.
B. call your doctor.
C. just wait until your next doctor visit to ask.

B is the correct answer. If you are not sure what your doctor said to do about your health after you get home, call his or her office as soon as possible. Someone from your doctor's staff can talk to your doctor and call you back. You can also find out if your doctor has an e-mail address where you can send your questions.


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