When it comes to your health and dealing with a chronic condition, there is no such thing as a “stupid” question. In fact, the more you know, the more you’ll feel satisfied with the outcome of your visit to the doctor.
Know you’re not alone in facing a chronic condition. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, almost 50 percent of the U.S. adult population suffers from at least one chronic health condition. A list of these conditions can include anything from asthma to ulcerative colitis, and many things in between.
You (yes, you!) need to be your own health advocate. How? To start, here are 10 questions you should be asking your doctor at your next visit. (Of course, not all of them may apply, but they’re good to keep in mind!)
1. Could anything else be causing or contributing to my problem?
Before blurting out all of the information you found while researching your condition online, see what your doctor has to say. Keep an open mind, and remember, the Internet doesn’t know everything. In addition, it’s good to bring up alternative possibilities (if you don’t have a certain diagnosis). Remember, when you ask this, be prepared to describe what you’re experiencing in detail and any changes in your condition since your last visit. Your doctor might also ask what you think is going on. After all, you know your body better than anyone else.
2. What’s normal for my age and gender?
Depending on your condition, it can be useful to know what is normal for your demographic. Metrics like weight, blood pressure, cholesterol and glucose — just to name a few — are all measurable progress metrics. For example, if you’re struggling with hypertension and you’re working on your blood pressure, you can measure your progress at a pharmacy anytime (usually for free). Having a set goal in mind can provide an extra boost of motivation — especially if treatment correlates with practicing diligence, such as taking your prescription, eating healthy or exercising regularly. Once you know what’s normal, you can even track your progress before your next visit.
3. What are you prescribing me?
Depending on your condition, your doctor may write you a prescription or have you try different ones. It’s always good to ask what you’re being prescribed and about possible side effects to watch for. Also, tell your doctor about all medications, over-the-counter drugs, topical applications and vitamins (including minerals and herbs) you are using. Then ask if the new prescription or treatment can interact with your existing list.
Finally, know that if you start a new health regimen, not everything works instantly. Be sure to ask when you can expect to see improvements or results. You don’t want to give up before something has even started to work.
4. Is there an alternative?
Do I really need this medication or test? Can I substitute diet, exercise or natural supplements for what you’re giving me? Sometimes there is an alternative option and other times there isn’t. You also need to ask yourself how hard you’re willing to work to avoid that prescription if you’re seeking an alternative treatment (for example, exercise and diet versus blood pressure medication). Be honest with yourself and your doctor.
5. Have you seen this problem before?
Have you treated this problem before? How much experience do you have? If you’re still searching for the right physician to treat a chronic condition, don’t be afraid to ask these important questions. While every MD or DO goes to medical school, every person has his or her unique perspective on treating conditions and varied amounts of experience. You should feel comfortable and confident in following your doctor’s direction.
6. If you were me, would you get a second opinion?
Should I see a specialist? If so, who is the best of the best? Especially with complex chronic conditions, it might be wise to get more than one opinion. Phrasing your question as, “If you were me…” puts the doctor in your shoes (for a figurative moment). This is your health and it might be worth your time and money to get a second opinion. Your doctor might agree, too. Just ask!
7. Should I follow up with you?
And if so, when? If you have tests during your visit, also ask if they’ll follow up with you by phone, online patient portal or if you have to come in again. Finally, inquire what you should do between visits. Go over your plan of action and make sure you fully understand everything you need to do.
8. Do you think this is covered by health insurance?
No doctor can confirm with 100 percent certainty what is covered by your specific insurance plan (only your health insurance provider can). However, some tests and treatments are more likely to be covered by most insurance plans. It doesn’t hurt to ask if you are concerned. You can also ask if it’s necessary (in general or at that moment). If you don’t need the test or treatment immediately, you can most likely come back after you confirm coverage with your health insurance company.
9. What else can I do to improve my health?
Lack of physical activity, poor nutrition, smoking and excessive alcohol use can make chronic conditions worse (or cause them), according to the CDC. As patients, many times we are the cause of our own suffering. Take this statistic as an example from the CDC: In the U.S., 52 percent of adults failed to meet the recommended amount of aerobic exercise or physical activity in 2012.
During your next visit ask: What is the best way for me to lose weight or maintain a healthy weight? What are the best types of exercise for my condition? How can I prevent injury or aggravate my condition further? What can I do to prevent this from happening again? What’s a good diet for my condition? Your doctor will be elated!
10. What other resources would you recommend I refer to?
Over one-third of American adults rely on the Internet to tell them what’s wrong with them or someone else, according to Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project study. The Internet can be useful, but it doesn’t know everything (and can misdiagnose or allude to treatments that may not be right for you). If you want to learn more about your condition or general health, ask your doctor about other educational resources, such as books, brochures, support groups or reliable websites.
Asking these questions will only empower you to take charge of your well-being. An educated patient, like yourself, makes for a healthier patient.