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Ask the Tough Questions

Don't leave your doctor's office without the answers you need

Be a smart questioner

At the doctor’s office:

  • Experts suggest that patients go to an appointment with a set of questions or perhaps even e-mail or fax them ahead of time. “If you have a lot of questions, call the office to say that you may need a little more time,” says Gloria Lopez-Cordle, author of The Personal Medical Journal.
  • Ask whether your doctor has washed his or her hands before starting to examine you.
  • Ask your doctor to draw pictures if it might help you understand.
  • Ask for written instructions.
  • Ask for permission to bring a tape recorder to help you remember them.

Questions to ask:

  • How will this new medicine help me?
  • What is the prescription? Does it have a brand or generic name?
  • What is the dosage?
  • What are the side effects? If I have a bad reaction or worrisome side effects, whom should I call, and when?
  • Are there any food or drinks I should avoid while taking it?
  • Can I take this medicine with any allergies I may have?
  • Is it safe to take the medicine with other vitamins, herbs or supplements I take?

Be your own advocate in the hospital

  • Don’t be shy about asking your care providers if they’ve washed their hands.
  • Make sure your doctors and nurses check your name or wristband before giving your medicine or performing any procedures.
  • If you have an IV drip, ask the hospital caregiver how long it should take for the liquid to run out.
  • Ask about having an antibiotic before surgery
  • When you leave the hospital, ask what further tests should be done, who should schedule them and when to schedule a follow-up exam.
  • Before you leave the hospital, ask what signs or symptoms should prompt you to call for a doctor’s visit.

Bring a friend

  • Take a family member, friend or caregiver with you to provide support, and to step in if necessary.

Cathie Gandel is a freelance writer based in New York.

You may also like: Avoid a roundtrip ticket to the hospital. >>

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