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Three Questions to Ask Your Doctor

Posted Sep 15th, 2009 by Trisha Torrey

Do you feel rushed when you see your doctor?  The truth is, many doctors are in such a hurry, they just aren’t doing enough to help us patients understand our medical conditions, nor are they helping us make the right decisions for ourselves. The results are patients who, due to lack of understanding, just don’t heal or get well the way they could or should. In extreme cases, this may lead to errors which lead to permanent harm or death – simply due to poor communication.

We’re not talking about bedside manner here. We’re talking about risk – the risk of patients who haven’t been to medical school and need good resources to help them understand their problems and treatments. Our providers are among our best resources.

Our doctors aren’t going to be giving us much more time, even when we take steps to extend it.  So it’s incumbent upon us patients to look at ways we can use the time we have with our providers as efficiently as possible to be sure we are getting all the information we need, when we need it.

The best place to begin is right there while we are in the doctor’s office.  Even if you initially feel intimidated by your doctor and freeze when it comes time to ask questions, you can begin by asking simple questions.

A group called "Ask Me 3" is making that step as simple as they can for us. They suggest we begin with a series of three questions when we visit our doctors for medical problems.

Question one is simply, "what is my main problem?" It gets to the heart of a diagnosis and helps us understand what we’ve got.  You can follow this one up with, “What else can it be?”  Knowing what other options exist will help you learn later about the differences, and why your doctor thinks his or her diagnosis is correct.

Question two is: "What do I need to do about it?" Your doctor’s response will outline your treatment options and prepare you to learn more about them. Remember, though, that those answers are only a start.  They are really setting us up to do our own research later.

Question three is: "Why do I need to do that?" This will help break down each treatment option into its benefits and components and will help us make treatment decisions that will work best for us.

A reminder, though.  Unless you find yourself in an emergency situation, you do not need to make all your decisions right away. You need to be sure you understand all your options, their pros and cons, before you make those decisions.

If you’d like to learn more about Ask Me 3, check out their website:


About the author

Trisha Torrey is Every Patient's Advocate. She is a newspaper columnist, radio talk show host, national speaker, and the guide to patient empowerment at

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