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Making Informed Decisions for Better Health

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Getting the conversation started: Questions to ask your healthcare practitioner when testing is recommended

When testing is ordered, you should feel comfortable in finding out why the test needs to be done, how it will be done, and what the healthcare practitioner expects to learn from it, all within the context of evidence-based medicine, patient-centered considerations, and improving your health outcomes. Here are some examples of questions you might wish to ask your practitioner to get the conversation started:

  • What information do you expect to gain from this test? How could it change the course of my care?
  • What are the risks and benefits of testing?
  • What are the risks and benefits of acting on the results (undergoing treatment)?
  • What is the evidence that supports this screening and how does it fit my situation?
  • What do I need to know or do before the test?
  • What happens during and after the test?
  • What are normal results? What do abnormal results mean?
  • What factors may affect the results?
  • What course of action may be next, after the test?
  • If results are not normal, what are the next steps?

So that you don't forget to ask during your visit, be sure to write your questions down before you go. Or print a copy of the general questions listed above.

To create a list of questions specific for your situation, see the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality's Question Builder.

Your healthcare practitioner is the best person to look to for answers. No matter how brief the answers may be, asking your physician, physician's assistant, or nurse is likely to provide you with the answer most specific to your situation. After you hear from them, you can decide to follow up and get more details from a published source of information.

Several leading health organizations have resources on the their websites that can help you become an informed patient with regard to your particular condition and feel more comfortable when talking to your health care practitioner:

National Institutes of Health: Talking to Your Doctor

American Heart Association: Consumer Health Care

American Diabetes Association: Who's on Your Health Care Team?

American Cancer Society: Questions To Ask Your Doctor When You Have Cancer

American Cancer Society: Talking With Your Doctor

NIH, National Center for Complimentary and Alternative Medicine: Be an Informed Consumer

TeensHealth from Nemours: Talking to Your Doctor

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