A doctor explains results to a patient
This article waslast modified on April 19, 2019.
Getting the conversation started: Questions to ask your healthcare practitioner when testing is recommended

When laboratory testing is ordered, you should feel comfortable in finding out why the test needs to be done, how it will be done, and what your healthcare practitioner expects to learn from it. 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. See the links below under Related Content.

Other Resources

Time constraints, comfort in asking questions, confidence in understanding the answers, or simply forgetting to ask the important questions will sometimes compel many people to look for health and medical information from sources other than their healthcare practitioners. There is a wealth of information available on the Internet that you can use to help guide your understanding of laboratory testing and the concepts described in this article. However, anyone can create a website or a blog, so it's important to get information from reliable and reputable sources, such as government agencies, professional associations, major healthcare organizations, and universities.

Lab Tests Online provides information on specific laboratory tests, diseases and conditions as well as summaries of screening recommendations that is geared toward patients and their families and friends. You can access these by using the tests, conditions, and screenings menu or the search feature at the top of any page.

Below are listed several other websites of varying levels of patient friendliness that address the topics covered in this article. They may be a good place to start when beginning to search for additional information on the web.

National Institutes of Health: How To Evaluate Health Information on the Internet: Questions and Answers 

The Joint Commission: "What Did the Doctor Say?" Improving Health Literacy to Protect Patient Safety

Institute for Patient- and Family-Centered Care

American Medical Association: Improving Health Outcomes

The Cochrane Collaboration

Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ): Improving Your Health Literacy

AHRQ: Expanding Patient-Centered Care To Empower Patients and Assist Providers

Center for Medical Technology Policy

Informed Health Online (a German-based website)