Questions You Must Ask Your Doctor

The average doctor’s visit lasts only 10 minutes. Here’s how to be prepared.

By Pamela F. Gallin | MD

Even if your doctor was the smartest doctor in the world, she could not know everything about everything in medicine. Medicine has become much too complicated. But, if you are ready for your visit, your care will be better for everyone. The average doctor’s visit lasts only 10 minutes. The Boy Scouts are right: “Be Prepared.”
While there are many parts of the exam, four of the most important parts are:

  1. The Complaint
  2. The Diagnosis (what is being considered)
  3. Tests (to figure out the diagnosis)
  4. Treatment (and choices)

I. The Complaint

This is why you are coming to see the doctor. What hurts? How is it bothering you? Since you only have a fragment of the 10 minutes to cover this, it is important to get it right. Be organized.

On a sheet of paper, BEFORE you go to the doctor, answer these questions:

  1. What hurts — head, toe, belly?
  2. When does it hurt — all of the time, in the evening, morning, certain situations?
  3. What kind of pain — sharp, dull, pounding, constant, intermittent?
  4. Time: How long does it last — seconds, minutes, always?
  5. Specifics: Is there anything which makes it better or worse? Does anything happen with it — vomiting, can’t urinate?

This way, you can walk in and say that you have intermittent headaches, which come on at the end of the day, are sharp, like a knife, last an hour, not relieved (or are relieved) by aspirin, and you do (or don’t) feel like vomiting.

II. The Diagnosis

When your doctor is talking about what he thinks might be wrong with you, you need to ask questions to figure out what he is thinking so that you understand the full picture.

You want to ask:

  1. What are the top three things that you think might be wrong with me?
  2. How are you going to sort them out?
  3. Do I need to see a specialist?

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