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Straight Talk For Good Health

A Doctor speaking to a patient

Photo: iStock

Straight talk with your health-care provider is important. You and your medical team can then both make better decisions for your good health. Here's how.

Does this sound familiar? You have only a few minutes with your health-care provider. You say what's on your mind. But, later, you remember something you forgot to ask. Or, maybe you listen to what she says, and then forget parts of what she told you. Or, you realize that although you thought you understood what she was telling you at the time, there are some words and directions that now confuse you.

Today, patients take an active role in their health care. How well you and your health-care provider talk to each other is one of the most important parts of getting good health care. Unfortunately, it isn't always easy. It takes time and effort on your part. Here are some tips for making the most of your visit.

Today, patients take an active role in their health care. Speaking clearly with your health-care provider about what's wrong and how to cure it is one of the most important aspects of getting good care.

Make a List

To Find Out More

Talking to Your Doctor

Questions are the Answer

Talking with your Doctor

Come prepared for your visit. Make a list of the things that you want to discuss, such as:

  • Any symptoms that are bothering you. Have they changed since your last visit?
  • Medicines you take. Be sure to include vitamins and any complementary and alternative therapies you use, such as herbs or supplements.
  • Any allergies you may have, especially to medications.
  • A description of symptoms, when they started, and what makes them better.

Be sure to understand your diagnosis and prescribed treatments. Ask your health-care provider to write down his or her instructions to you. If you still don't understand, ask where to go for more information.

Ask Questions

If you don't understand your health-care provider, ask questions until you do understand. Write down what he or she says. Go with a trusted friend or relative, and let your health professional know if you want that person to hear what is said. Helpful questions for clear understanding:

About My Disease or Disorder

  • What is my diagnosis?
  • What caused my condition?
  • Can it be treated?
  • How will it affect my health now and in the future?
  • Should I watch for any particular symptoms and notify you if they occur?
  • Should I make any lifestyle changes?


  • What is the treatment for my condition?
  • When will the treatment start, and how long will it last?
  • What are the benefits of this treatment, and how successful will it be?
  • What are the risks and side effects associated with this treatment?
  • Are there foods, drugs, or activities I should avoid while I'm on this treatment?
  • If treatment includes taking a medication, what should I do if I miss a dose?
  • Are other treatments available?

Medical Tests

  • What kinds of tests will I have?
  • What do you expect to find out from these tests?
  • When will I know the results?
  • Do I have to do anything special to prepare for any of the tests?
  • Are there any side effects or risks?
  • Will I need more tests later?

Look it up

Sometimes, it can seem as if you and your health-care provider are speaking different languages. Health professionals often use technical terms instead of more common names for conditions. For example, a doctor might say you have a contusion. You would call it a bruise.

You can use the Merriam-Webster Medical Dictionary at to look up words. Just go to and enter the word you're looking for. On that same page, you can also find lists of word parts and what they mean, some common abbreviations, and even a tutorial, "Understanding Medical Words."

Summer 2009 Issue: Volume 4 Number 3 Pages 22 - 23