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Topics > Healthy Outlook > Prep Questions before Doctor's Visit

Prep Questions before Doctor's Visit

Published by Contra Costa Times
Posted on Wed, Mar. 15, 2006
By William Walker, MD

DOES YOUR DOCTOR never seem to have the time to listen to all your concerns? When you get home after a doctor's visit, do you remember questions you meant to ask? Do you have trouble remembering all the things your doctor told you during the visit?

These things happen to most of us. Medical care is becoming more complicated, and doctors have less time to spend with patients these days. What's the answer?

One of my longtime patients, we'll call him Bob (not his real name), is especially organized, and a good example for all of us.

Bob comes to appointments armed with a list of questions, and a journal of significant medical problems and results that have occurred since his last visit. He also brings a pencil and paper to jot down significant findings during the visit, such as his blood pressure, lab results, and medication changes.

Bob knows how to make good use of our brief time together, and we can all learn from him.

Bring a list of questions, including those you forgot to ask or the doctor didn't have time to answer during your last visit.

  • Prioritize your questions in case there isn't time to address all of them in one visit.
  • Educate yourself ahead of time about tests you might need to prevent illness, such as cancer and heart disease. Ask your provider if you're due for a test. A useful Web site is
  • Bring all your prescription medications in their official, labeled containers, including pills, inhalers, eye drops, ointments, vitamins, supplements, and herbs. Although not as good, a list is better than nothing.
  • Non-English speakers shouldn't rely on family members, especially children, to translate for them and the doctor. Request an interpreter if the communication is unclear.
  • If you have chronic health problems, keep and bring a dated journal about your progress. The journal should include your symptoms, as well as data such as blood sugar and pressure results.
  • Don't be afraid to ask questions. For example, if you're having tests like a CAT scan done, ask if an injection or fasting will be necessary.
  • Don't be afraid to ask for a second opinion if you have been diagnosed with a serious health problem. A responsible physician will understand your concern, and won't be offended.
  • Read about your medical condition beforehand, so you will have some idea what to expect. The Internet has a wealth of information, but not everything on the Web is correct. Two reliable Web sites to start are and Ask your doctor about any alternative treatments you discover.
  • If you're expecting important test results or possibly bad news, consider bringing a relative or close friend for emotional support. You may be too anxious to think clearly and ask important questions.
  • Bring a pen and paper to write down important facts and your provider's instructions.

Your doctor always pays most attention to your urgent problems, which is as it should be. But your questions are important, as is the preventative care you need to stay healthy. Don't lose sight of a valuable part of these visits with your doctor: your long-term health.

Walker practices family medicine at the Martinez Health Center, and is director of Contra Costa Health Services, the county's public health system.

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