What to Ask a Doctor about a New Treatment or Diagnosis

Published on Nov 22, 2017
Medically reviewed by Rebecca Ashkenazy, MD

Sometimes getting a new diagnosis from your doctor can be a scary experience. It may be a surprise and—depending on the medical problem—it can impact the rest of your life. Make sure you talk with your doctor and ask key questions to ensure that you fully understand your medical diagnosis and treatment options.

Questions for Your Doctor

There are some general questions you may ask your doctor when you are given a new diagnosis or recommendation for a new treatment. Remember the 5Ws and an H from kindergarten? “Who”, “What”, “Where”, “When”, “Why” and “How.” The chart below offers a list of possible general questions for your doctor using that framework. You may want to organise your questions before your appointment so that you are more prepared.

Keep in mind, however, that there are also a number of additional questions you may need to ask based on your specific diagnosis or treatment. For example, if you have been diagnosed with a condition such as diabetes or cancer, your questions may be specific to that particular disease. Or if you have been prescribed a new treatment such as a medication, you may ask about side effects, effectiveness, or how long you should take it.

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You may receive a lot of information all at once about a new diagnosis. And you might not understand everything right away or you may need to have the information repeated to you—this is normal. Medical information can be complicated and you should feel comfortable asking your doctor to repeat any answers during the visit, or later by phone or email. You may also want to ask for the information in a different way, such as in a handout or fact sheet. Your doctor may be able to provide other resources, brochures, or materials, or point you to reputable medical organizations with information online.

Don’t Leave Without Knowing These Two Things

Before you leave the doctor’s office, ask:

  1. What do I need to do next?, and
  2. When will I talk to you about this again?

As a patient, it’s important to understand your doctor’s recommendation for next steps in your care. Your doctor may recommend additional testing or ask you to go see a specialist. Jot these recommendations down.

It is also a good practice to be clear about when you will next meet about the medical issue or treatment. Consider scheduling a follow-up visit before your leave the office or mark it on your calendar to call the doctor’s office to follow-up on results.

Rebecca Ashkenazy, MD is the Women’s and Men’s Health, US Medical Director, Pfizer Inc.

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After reading about preparing for a doctor’s visit, how likely are you to ask the questions suggested in this article?

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