What To Ask Doctors During A Visit, According To The Physicians Themselves
Scheduling a checkup is something that you know will be good for your health, but is one of the least fun things to spend time doing during an afternoon. However, knowing what questions to ask your doctor can turn the visit into something truly beneficial. You might think of the doctor as someone who will judge you for your lifestyle or shame you into making different choices, but a good physician will genuinely want to help you feel the best that you possibly can.
"Good communication with your doctor is essential," Lisa Doggett, MD, MPH, FAAFP, a board-certified physician and author of White Spots and Black Holes, tells Bustle. "It can often feel uncomfortable and embarrassing to raise questions about sensitive subjects, but I would urge patients to go ahead and ask." You might be comforted to know that most doctors have been through so much extensive training that it's truly hard to shock them, so in all likelihood, anything you're worried about has been something they've seen before. While you should feel more informed and relieved after asking your doctor a question, it's also important to realize that you don't need to stick with someone who's making you uncomfortable. "If a doctor makes you feel bad, embarrassed, or ashamed for asking a question, it’s time to find another doctor," Doggett says.
Here are the questions that doctors wish you would ask them.
1. "What Screenings Could I Get Now?"
While you might think of the doctor's office as somewhere you go only when you know you have a health problem, preventative care is also an important aspect of a visit. Depending on your age, you might be eligible for certain screening tests. Asking about these, as well as how often your doctor recommends getting them done, can help you be proactive about your health. For example, a cervical cancer screening is important for people with cervixes who are 21 and older, Doggett says. Depending on whether you meet certain risk factors, you could also receive screenings for diabetes or cholesterol.
2. "Do I Need To Take Vitamins Or Supplements?"
You may be taking a multivitamin because you feel like it's the "healthy" thing to do, or maybe you've added a supplement to your routine because you have a friend who swears by its benefits. But your doctor is exactly the person you should be consulting when it comes to any supplements, especially if you're already taking any prescription medications. "Most people need few supplements, especially if they have a healthy diet," Doggett says. "But massive amounts of advertising have created mass confusion on this topic." Asking your doctor about which supplements could be beneficial for your specific body and health needs can help you determine what's a fad and what could actually be useful for you.
3. "Could I Have A Substance Misuse Problem?"
You might find it totally easy to tell your doctor all about the cough you've been having for a few weeks, or complain about the fact that you have a more difficult time sleeping than you'd like to. And bringing up issues like these is definitely important. But it's also important to go into deeper issues, if that would benefit you. If you're unsure about whether your drug or alcohol habits are unsafe, or if you're concerned about whether you're developing a dependency, ask your doctor. "Substance overuse and abuse is common, contributing to hundreds of thousands of deaths every year," Doggett says. "Your doctor can help identify if you have a problem with substance use and connect you with resources to get help."
Editor's Note: If you or someone you know is seeking help for substance use, call the SAMHSA National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP(4357).
4. "Can We Discuss My Sexual Health?"
“Don’t be embarrassed to ask about anything that you are concerned about," Dr. Ehsan Ali, MD, a primary care physician and physician on staff with the Cedar-Sinai Medical Group, tells Bustle. "More than likely, the doctor has already heard it several times before. Sexual health is important and nothing to be shy about," he says. Sexually transmitted infections are very common, and you may not even realize that you have them. While you might be tempted to underestimate your sexual partners or lie about using barrier methods during sex, it's really important to be candid with your doctor. This will help them do a proper evaluation, and point them toward any STI screenings that would be relevant to you.
5. "Is My Mental Health Cause For Concern?"
Although you might associate a medical doctor with physical health exclusively, they're also a great resource when it comes to concerns about your mental health. Not only can your doctor consider whether any of your health concerns could be exacerbating your mental health issues, but they can also refer you to therapists or psychiatrists who can give you more specialized treatment. “Talk about if you are experiencing anxiety or depression," Ali says. "It is much more prevalent than people realize. Mental health is important and not taboo to talk about.” Even if you aren't sure whether you're just stressed or if you actually have anxiety, bring up how you've been feeling so that they can help guide you.
6. "Do I Need Any Immunizations?"
Immunizations definitely aren't just something people should get as a young child. If you're in your 20s or 30s, you can still benefit from getting shots, and asking about what your doctor recommends can help you decide whether getting one is best for you. For example, some folks in their 20s didn't receive vaccines when they were younger, and could actually catch up now, Doggett says. Also, the HPV vaccine — the immunization to help prevent cervical and other genital cancers — is also recommended for people through age 26 (and maybe older), she says. You could also be ready to get an annual flu shot or get another Tetanus shot (which you need every 10 years).
7. Literally Anything Else
You might be concerned about wasting your doctor's time with a question about a seemingly mild health concern or by asking about whether something you've heard is actually true or not. But never feel like what you have to say isn't important enough at an appointment. “There is no such thing as a stupid question," Ali says. "Many patients are afraid to ask simple but important questions, because they are afraid of sounding ignorant," he says. "Your health is important, so please ask whatever is on your mind.”
The next time you find yourself anxiously awaiting your doctor's knock on the door of the office room, take a deep breath. They're there for your health, and genuinely want to hear what you have to ask.