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AHRQ--Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality: Advancing Excellence in Health Care

Explore Your Treatment Options: Start the Conversation

A doctor talking to a patient.

Health care can be confusing.

Whether you are just starting treatment or your treatment is already underway, it is never too late to take an active role in your health care.

By talking with your doctor, nurses, and other people on your health care team, you can make sure you are not missing the best treatment for you.

Here are a few tips to help you better understand your treatment options:

1. Give your doctor as much information as you can.

Don’t wait for your doctor to ask questions. Share everything—even information that might be embarrassing. This information can help your doctor make better recommendations.

  • Tell your doctor about all your symptoms.
  • Talk about what is most important to your quality of life. You can use our Health Priorities Tool to make a list of what is important to you.
  • Keep a list of your past illnesses, operations, and treatments. Share the list with your family and bring it to your appointment.
  • Bring a list of your medicines (or bring them in a bag) to your appointment. Tell the doctor how much and how often you take each medicine.
  • Tell your doctor about allergies, reactions, or side effects you’ve had from medicines.
  • Tell your doctor if you take herbal products or alternative medicines, supplements, or treatments.

2. Ask as many questions as you need to understand your diagnosis.

If you do not ask questions, your doctor may think you understand everything you are being told.

Write down your questions before your visit so you do not forget anything. Start by asking the most important ones and work your way down the list. To get you started, here are some questions you might want to ask:

  • Why would this treatment be good for me?
  • What are the chances this treatment will work?
  • When will I notice a difference?
  • How much does this treatment cost?
  • Will this treatment hurt?
  • What are my other options?
  • Are there side effects?
  • What can be done about the side effects?

3. Make sure you really understand the information.

  • Bring a pen and paper to your appointment and take notes. You can even ask the doctor’s office if you can record your talk with the doctor.
  • Bring someone with you to the appointment. Your spouse, your child, or your friend can help you ask questions and remember the answers you get.
  • You can ask your doctor to draw pictures to help explain what he or she means.
  • If you need more time with your doctor, ask for it. If your doctor cannot give you extra time that day, ask for another appointment or ask if you can speak to a nurse or physician assistant.
  • Ask for written instructions, brochures, Web sites, or videos that can help you understand your condition and treatment options. If your doctor does not have any, ask how to get more information.

4. Remember to follow up.

In some cases, you may need more information or care. Call your doctor’s office if:

  • You have more questions.
  • You feel worse.
  • You have problems with your medicines.
  • You have not gotten your test results.

By following these tips, you and your doctor can work together to find the best treatment for you.

Need help with taking the first step? You can use our Health Priorities Tool to make a list of what is important to you.

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