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Ask questions and be sure you understand your diagnosis and treatment options

Patients, as much as the professionals who treat them, are critical to maintaining good health. You know your symptoms best and are usually the one in charge of following a doctor's treatment plan for your care. Still, it can be hard to talk easily with your health care provider and ask questions when your health needs are complex, you are unfamiliar with medical terminology, and you have been told that ‘doctor knows best.’

If you find it hard to talk with your doctor or nurse practitioner, try some of these strategies.

Doctor’s appointments often seem too short. These tips can help you make the most of that time:

  • Bring your medications or a list of them
  • Track your symptoms
  • Write down your concerns and any questions you have in advance
  • Bring someone with you

Visit the Speak Up™ website for video overviews, frequently asked questions and other relevant materials to help you prepare for appointments and communicate effectively.

Health providers sometimes use medical jargon. Don’t be afraid to ask questions when something is unclear and repeat back what you heard to your doctor to make sure you understood the information correctly.

  • The federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) suggests a set of questions to ask before, during and after your appointments
  • CompareCare conversation guides help you have informed conversations with your insurance plan and care providers about specific procedures or health care services
  • The Ask Me 3 program encourages you to ask What is my main problem? What do I need to do? Why is important for me to do this?

  • Take notes: Write down your treatment options and the steps you want to learn more about.
  • Ask for print-outs: Request a printed summary of your treatment plan. Some hospitals give patients access to their online medical records and notes — ask if this is an option.
  • Do your homework: It’s okay to do additional research to learn more about the risks and benefits of a treatment option. If what you find raises any concerns, discuss them with your doctor.

The Patient Medical Journal provides templates and charts to help you organize paperwork and write down the right information.

You are the person closest to your treatment, so your knowledge and instincts are key to helping clinicians care for you safely.

  • Ask your providers to talk to each other: Ask any specialist you see to discuss your treatment plan and share test results with your primary care doctor. This will help your doctors avoid repeat testing and communicate key information about your care.
  • Monitor changes in your health: Notice how your body reacts to new medications or treatments. Write down your symptoms so you can talk about them at your next appointment, or call your doctor if they are serious.
  • Speak up: Trust your instincts and speak up if you think something may be wrong with your medications or treatment.

Find more resources from Massachusetts Health Quality Partners and the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.