Frequently Asked Questions


What should I include when I describe a symptom to my doctor?

Your description should include what the symptom is, when it started, when it occurs, how long it lasts, how often you have it, and anything that makes it worse or better. Try to be as specific as possible.

What should I do if I do not understand something my doctor says?

Ask questions. Talking with your doctor is not always easy. Sometimes what he or she says about your health may not make sense. If something seems unclear, ask your doctor to explain what he or she means. 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.

Besides my health problems, what are some other topics that I may want to talk to my doctor about?

It is important for you to discuss sensitive topics with your doctor because they may affect your health. These personal matters may include problems with alcohol, fear of falling, problems driving, depression, sexuality, sexually transmitted disease prevention, incontinence, memory loss, family problems, and unhappiness with your doctor.

What is the benefit of bringing a family member or friend to my doctor visit?

ometimes it is helpful to bring a family member or close friend with you. Let your family member or friend know in advance what you want from your visit. Your companion can remind you what you planned to discuss with the doctor if you forget. She or he can take notes for you and can help you remember what the doctor said. If you bring someone to your doctor visit, you can still have time alone with your doctor to talk about personal matters.

If, after my doctor visit, I have questions about medications prescribed for me, is there someone I can talk to besides my doctor?

Yes. Your pharmacist can help answer your questions about medications, including what the label on the medicine bottle means and what are common side effects. It may be helpful to get all your prescriptions from the same pharmacy so they have a complete record of what you are taking. Your pharmacist can check to see if there are any medications that should not be taken together.

Why might a doctor want to do a medical test?

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.

What questions should I ask before having a medical test?

Before you have a medical test, ask your doctor these questions.​

  • Why do I need the test? What will it show about my health?

  • What will it cost and will my insurance cover it?

  • What do I need to do to prepare for the test? (For example, you may need to have an empty stomach, or you may have to provide a urine sample.)

  • 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 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 a specialist, ask to have the results sent to your primary doctor.

​What questions should I ask my doctor once I am given a diagnosis?

A diagnosis identifies your disease or physical problem.

The doctor makes a diagnosis based on the symptoms you are experiencing and the results of the physical exam, laboratory work, and other tests.

Understanding your diagnosis, or 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 may be better prepared 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 might this problem last? Will it be permanent?

  • 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?

​How do I obtain my medical records?

In most cases, you can request your records directly from your doctor or from the hospital medical records department. (Some records, such as information specific to cancer, are kept by the hospital’s pathology department.) Keep in mind that offices may only keep records for a certain amount of time as required by the individual state. You should call the office to make sure your records are still on file.

All hospitals and most doctors’ offices have a “release of information” form that you can use to request your medical records. In many cases, instead of using a form you can simply send a letter that includes information to identify your records:

  • Your birth date

  • Your full name (including information about any name changes)

  • Time frame when you were seen (for example, July 1998 to September 2000)

  • The specific types of information you want sent to you (such as reports from a brain scan, your cholesterol levels, etc.)

You can have your records sent directly to you or directly to a health professional. If you have records sent to a health professional, let the professional know to expect the files.

How can I get answers to questions about the bill I received from my doctor?

You should try to resolve your concern by asking your physician to explain your bill.

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