Skip Navigation Skip Navigation To Login
United States Department  of Veterans Affairs

In the Spotlight

Talk With Your Healthcare Provider

Contributed by Richard Harvey, Ph.D.

Patient speaking with her healthcare provider"Time is of the essence" is a phrase used in real estate and other legal papers. Aside from its legal meaning, it also applies to appointments with your healthcare provider. Because there are so many patients to be seen, healthcare appointments are usually shorter than we might like. This leaves many patients unsatisfied at the end of their visit. Do not despair! There are ways to make the most of every visit. You, your healthcare provider and other members of the healthcare team can come away from each visit feeling more satisfied than may have been the case in the past.

There are two basic ways to make the most of your visit. One is to come prepared. The other is to speak up and actually talk with your healthcare provider as your partner. Your healthcare provider is there to help you with your health, and the two of you are partners for that purpose. That means that you need to be involved in your healthcare and do things to make your visits productive. For example, a great deal of the information needed to make a diagnosis is based on your description of symptoms, recent changes, and your history. Do not be afraid to share that information during the visit.

Here are some suggestions:

Come Prepared

  • Be sure to bring all the medications you are taking in their original labeled containers, including any over the counter medicines or herbal products
    • Be prepared to describe exactly when, how, and how often you take each of these, and any side effects you have noticed
  • Bring a written list of changes in your health
    • Include symptoms, any medical history or other information you think might be helpful for your healthcare provider to know
  • Bring a written list of your questions
    Common questions include:
    • What is wrong with me?
    • What is the cause, or why is that happening to me?
    • What treatment or treatments will help me?
    • What will the treatment be like?
    • What can I expect to happen to me?
    • What do you recommend I do?
    • Where can I get help if I need it?
  • Bring pen and paper so you can write down the answers to your questions.
  • You may want to bring a friend or family member with you to help you remember the answers to your questions or other details of the visit.

Smiling healthcare provider speaking with patientTalk with Your Healthcare Provider

  • Speak up
    • Do not be afraid of your healthcare provider or others on your healthcare team
    • They are there to help you
    • They appreciate your being involved in your care
  • Tell your healthcare provider right up front what you want to get done at this visit
    • Bring a written list
  • Describe any pain, symptoms, or side effects you have been having
    • Do this early in your visit
  • Tell your healthcare provider what concerns and worries you about your health
    • Do not wait until the end of the visit to mention important concerns or symptoms
  • Tell the truth, even if it is embarrassing
    • Your healthcare provider needs to know
  • Tell your healthcare provider about personal concerns like sexual problems or trouble controlling your bladder or bowels
    • Your healthcare provider understands those things and is there to help
  • Be clear and to the point
    • Extra chatter about your aunt Lillie’s problems or your friend Joe’s divorce wastes valuable time
  • Be sure to ask your questions
  • If you have trouble understanding what your healthcare provider says, ask him/her to explain in simpler words, to speak more slowly, speak louder or softer, draw a picture, or whatever else would help you understand
  • Ask about your treatment or care plan so you understand it, know what to expect, and what the next steps are
  • Ask for written instructions and/or information if it is available

Being actively involved in your healthcare in all these ways helps you and your healthcare provider and team act as partners. You are all working together to improve your health and keep you healthy.  Your health may be your most valuable asset, so be sure to protect it.  You are worth it!

Learn More:

Active Learning


Updated/Reviewed: March 1, 2010

Related Links