Below are the main questions to ask your primary care doctor during your visit.
- What is the #1 thing you think this could be?
This question is really intended to get the conversation started. You need to know what your doctor is thinking, where he or she might be going. As you’re describing your symptoms, your doctor is probably thinking, “Well, it’s likely to be A, B or C. I think D is unlikely.” Sometimes diagnoses are easy to confirm; sometimes they’re not so clear and physicians will “rule out” each one systematically. In my experience with patients, they’re often quite relieved to know their doctor has some idea about what might be going on and is putting a plan in place to figure it out.
- What do you hope to learn?
This is a critical question. By the end of your appointment, you should be very clear about what I call "the game plan" for your treatment. This includes 4 items:
- What is being ordered (studies, drugs, any additional health-care provider appointments) and why are you ordering them? What are you hoping to learn? You want to know why tests are being ordered. And if they’re negative, then what? What will be next?
- What is the timeline for this plan? Are we talking days, weeks or months? It will frame your expectations as to how long it may take to figure out what’s going on or better yet, to resolve it. Tests can take time to schedule and get final results, some drugs need time to do their job, and appointments, if needed, may take time to schedule.
- How will we communicate with each other during this period? Email? Phone? Never assume that no news is good news. You deserve to know every result, whether it’s normal or not. The important thing is that you should not wait passively. I have known way too many test results to get lost or not reported.
- How can I confirm that my health insurance will cover what you are ordering? Though your doctor may not be the best resource for answering this, there may be resources in the office who can guide you. As healthcare reform evolves and insurance coverage changes, you need to be thinking about your coverage. For example, if your insurance coverage has an annual deductible of $500 or $1,000, you are responsible for meeting that deductible before insurance will kick in. If the test that your doctor ordered is going to require payment out of your pocket, and you don’t have it, you need to communicate that with your doctor. It may change the game plan.