Step 3: Share with Your Doctor
Be Your Own Best Health Advocate
You know your body best. Communicating effectively with your doctor about your health changes can lead to an earlier diagnosis and more effective, simpler treatment. It’s like giving a detective the necessary clues to solve the case. Without all of the clues, it’s a lot harder to figure it out. It is your job to advocate for your own health by sharing any new, persistent health changes.
Be Honest and Prepare for Your Appointment
The more you share, the clearer picture your doctor will have about what is going on with your health. It helps if you prepare for your appointment ahead of time. Make a list of anything you have noticed that has changed, and items you want to discuss. Make a list of questions. No detail is too small or insignificant. It may feel uncomfortable or embarrassing to share some specifics, but don’t hold back. Doctors have heard and seen it all.
Trust Your Gut
When you visit your doctor, if he or she dismisses your concerns with comments like:
- “You are young and healthy.”
- “You’re just over-training/working out too hard.”
- “It’s probably hormones.”
… and your instincts tell you this is not true, tell your doctor why you don’t agree and ask for help in determining the reason for your health change. If your concerns are still not taken seriously, and you don’t feel heard, you should not be shy about getting a second opinion.
“Make sure you come to your appointment prepared. The time with your physician is precious, and that is the optimal opportunity to ask questions. Write them down or put them on your phone.”
Carol Lacey, diagnosed with cervical cancer at 46
Often you will get a diagnosis and treatment plan, and you want to be sure to ask clarifying questions. Open-ended questions work best.
When you ask open-ended questions, you’ll be less likely to get one-word answers that leave you wondering, and more likely to get information that will help you feel better.
- What should I do if I don’t feel better?
- What else should I look for?
- Where can I find more information?
- How should I prepare for my next appointment?
- How does my age/lifestyle/history fit into all of this?
- Why is symptom X happening?
- Why is it important for me to follow this treatment plan?
- When should I feel better?
- When should I contact you again?
Learn More About What to Ask
My doctor told me I would be called to schedule another appointment, but I never heard from anyone. Does that mean I don’t need the appointment?
Not hearing from your doctor does not mean you don’t need the appointment. On the contrary, you may have simply slipped through the cracks in their system. Call your doctor and follow up on appointments, referrals and test results.
I want to learn about my diagnosis. Where is the best place to find reliable medical information online?
We use MedlinePlus.gov, which is run by the National Library of Medicine. MedlinePlus is frequently curated and updated, and it provides in-depth information on over 1,000 health topics in both English and Spanish. If you do choose to visit other websites, be aware that many of them might be selling products or giving advice without adequate expertise or evidence to support their claims.
My doctor diagnosed me and gave me a plan I can follow. Should I ask any questions?
Yes, be sure to ask when you should feel better or when your symptoms should be gone. Then ask what you should do if you don’t feel better in that timeframe.
My doctor told me to come back in six months but I am feeling worse now. Should I still wait for six months?
If you still don’t feel well or feel worse, call your doctor and let him/her know. To provide you with the best care s/he needs to hear from you. In order to help you, your doctor may need you to come in sooner.