Talking with Your Doctor

After a Diagnosis

Understand Your 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.

If you understand your medical condition, you can help make better decisions about treatment. If you know what to expect, it may be easier for you to deal with the condition.

Ask the doctor to tell you the name of the condition and why he or she thinks you have it. Ask how it may affect you and how long it might last. Some medical problems never go away completely. They can’t be cured, but they can be treated or managed.

Questions To Ask About Your Diagnosis

  • What may have caused this condition?
  • Will it be permanent?
  • How is this condition treated or managed?
  • What will be the long-term effects on my life?
  • How can I learn more about my condition?

Seeing a Specialist

Your doctor may send you to another doctor called a specialist if he or she does not know a lot about your health problem or does not know what the health problem is. You can also ask to see a specialist, but your insurance plan may require you to have a referral from your doctor.

A visit with a specialist may be short. Often, the specialist already has information about your health from your primary doctor. For example, the specialist may already know your symptoms and medical test results.

Your regular doctor should know what the specialist tells you about your diagnosis and treatment. Ask the specialist to send information about your diagnosis or treatment to your primary doctor. This will help your primary doctor keep track of your medical care. Also, during your next doctor visit, you should tell your doctor how well the treatment or medications prescribed by the specialist are working.

If Surgery Is Recommended

In some cases, surgery may be the best treatment for your condition. If so, your doctor will refer you to a surgeon. Often when surgery seems to be the best choice, a patient will seek a second opinion from another doctor. Your insurance plan may require it. Doctors are used to patients asking for a second opinion and may be able to refer you to another doctor who can talk to you about your health problem. Hearing the views of two different doctors can help you decide what is best for you.

If Medications Are Needed

Your doctor may prescribe a drug for your condition. Make sure you know the name of the drug and understand why it has been prescribed for you. Ask the doctor to write down how often and for how long you should take it.

Make notes about any other special instructions. There may be foods or drinks you should avoid while you are taking the medicine. Or you may have to take the medicine with food or a whole glass of water. If you are taking other medications, make sure your doctor knows, so he or she can prevent harmful drug interactions.

Taking Your Medications

Sometimes medicines affect older people differently than younger people. Let the doctor know if your medicine doesn’t seem to be working or if it is causing problems. It is best not to stop taking the medicine on your own. If you want to stop taking your medicine, check with your doctor first.

Learn about medication side effects and how to avoid them.

If another doctor (for example, a specialist) prescribes a medication for you, call your primary doctor’s office and leave a message letting him or her know. Also call to check with your doctor’s office before taking any over-the-counter medications. You may find it helpful to keep a chart of all the medicines you take and when you take them.

Get tips about managing and keeping track of your medications.

Questions To Ask About Medications

  • What are the common side effects?
  • What should I pay attention to?
  • When will the medicine begin to work?
  • What should I do if I miss a dose?
  • Should I take it at meals or between meals?
  • Do I need to drink a whole glass of water with it?
  • Are there foods, drugs, or activities I should avoid while taking this medicine?
  • Will I need a refill? How do I arrange that?

Understand Your Prescriptions

When the doctor writes a prescription, it is important that you are able to read and understand the directions for taking the medication.

If you have questions about your prescription or how you should take the medicine, ask your doctor or pharmacist. If you do not understand the directions, make sure you ask someone to explain them. It is important to take the medicine as directed by your doctor.

Keeping a record of all the medications you take with instructions for how to take them may be useful.