Six Basic Questions for Your Healthcare Provider


By Cedric M. Bright, MD 

NOTE: This article was originally published in Decisive Magazine. Reprinted with permission.

I enjoy watching TV commercials but one struck me the other day. It shows a young woman out for dinner with a date and the waiter has just finished telling them about the specials for the night, when the woman proceeds to ask about 15 questions. There is a cut to another scene where she is sitting on an exam table in a gown and there is a doctor asking her if she has any questions and she just clams up.

Is that you? In most situations in life you ask questions, but when faced with a health issue, does your mind go totally blank?

No need to feel alone, this is a common problem when we go to the experts. Each day I have patients who just simply look at me when I explain their condition and how it can be effectively managed or treated.

So today, I am going to arm you with some questions you can ask your health care provider to help break down that barrier and open a dialogue at your next visit. My hope is that you will find the interaction more satisfying when you can have an exchange of opinions and ideas.

One of my favorite sources for questions can be found at the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality website, AHRQ.gov. They keep a list of questions for patients to ask, and I believe this is a good starting point.

1. If you are getting a test, you should ask: Why do I need this test? This is a good open question that will allow the provider to explain to you what he or she is thinking and the rationale behind the testing. You should follow up the question with: When can I expect the results? Most providers will send out the results of your testing by letter or a phone call within a week.

2. If you are faced with a new diagnosis, you should ask: What does this mean to me? Are there any lifestyle changes I can make to avoid medication or treatment?

3. If you are being told that you have to start a medication, these few questions need to be asked: What is the most common side effect of this medication? What should I do if I think I am having a reaction to the medication? Will this medication interact with any other medications I am taking?

Now that you have the basics, here are some specific questions (and answers) for you to ask your health care provider about your heart health.

4. What are my risk factors for developing heart disease? The most common risk factors are your family history, your age, gender, having high blood pressure and/or diabetes, having elevated cholesterol, limited physical activity and lastly, smoking, The last five are what we call modifiable (in that you can control these factors with lifestyle modification and /or treatment with medications), and the first three you cannot modify. It is for this reason that knowing your family history is a great thing to share with your provider.

5. Is my blood pressure normal? We used to think that elevated blood pressures were appropriate for age, what we now know is that our blood pressures should stay in the range of 120-130/70-80s.

6. If you are a diabetic, you need to ask: What is my glycosalated hemoglobin (also known as an A1c)? This test lets you and your provider know how well you are controlling your blood sugars. Your goal value is to be < 7.0 which corresponds to an average blood sugar of 150.

You should also ask about your cholesterol, and know that your LDL is the bad cholesterol (promotes plaque buildup in arteries) and HDL helps to remove plaques from arteries. It is not good enough to just know what your total cholesterol is, you need to inquire specifically about these two entities.

Most providers enjoy having patients who are actively engaged in the decision making process. I hope that you will find that asking these questions improves your interaction with your provider and allows you to walk away from the visit with more information and a better understanding of what is actually occurring within your body.

Remember, your health begins and ends with you. Please be active in your health care and your health care will work much better for you.

Wishing you continued good health in the future.

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