How to Talk to Your Doctor or Health Care Provider


Your relationship with your doctor should be a partnership — where you and your doctor work together to make the best possible decisions about your health care.

It is very important that you be able to communicate openly and honestly with your doctor about any health care needs or concerns. At the same time, your doctor should be able to communicate important health information to you in a clear, understandable way.

A study in the December 22/29, 1999, issue of JAMA reports that communications between some physicians and their patients need to be improved so that patients can be completely informed and participate in decisions about their medical care.


Preparing for an office visit with your doctor will ensure that you take full advantage of the time you have together. Here are some suggested steps you can take before your visit:

  • Write down any questions you want to discuss with your doctor during your visit, or give the list to your doctor so that he or she can go over them with you.
  • Write down any symptoms or health concerns you have. Try to be as specific as possible, and include what the symptoms are, when they started, what the symptoms feel like, any lifestyle changes you made when the symptoms started, anything that triggers the symptoms, or anything that relieves the symptoms.
  • Be prepared to tell your doctor about all the medications you take, including prescription and nonprescription medications, vitamins, alternative therapies, and other supplements you may take.
  • Be completely honest about your lifestyle, including your diet, use of alcohol or other drugs, smoking history, sexual history, and other health care you receive.
  • Be sure to inform your doctor about any cultural or religious beliefs that may affect a treatment option.
  • Make sure you understand your doctor’s recommendations.


Your doctor should:

  • Provide information about your condition and any tests or procedures in a manner so that you easily understand.
  • Take the time to answer your questions thoroughly.
  • Give you specific instructions for treating your condition and taking any medications that are prescribed.
  • Know about the latest advances in medicine and be able to answer your questions about them.
  • Encourage you to participate in decisions about your care.


All discussions with your doctor are confidential. Your doctor will not share information about your health with anyone else unless you provide permission. So don’t be afraid to be completely open and honest about sensitive medical issues. Your disclosures should be met with understanding and possible solutions. If you don’t feel comfortable talking openly with your doctor, you may want to consider changing doctors.


Specialists are doctors who concentrate on certain body systems, specific age groups, or complex scientific techniques developed to diagnose or treat certain types of disorders. Your doctor may refer you to a specialist if your condition is outside his or her area of expertise. You may want to seek out a specialist yourself if you need a second opinion on a medical diagnosis or treatment plan, or if your doctor recommends elective surgery.


American Medical Association
AMA Physician Select

American Board of Medical Specialties
Public Education Program
(verify a doctor’s certification status or find a specialty doctor)
Which Medical Specialist for You
($1.50 each)


To find this and previous JAMA Patient Pages, check out the AMA’s Web site at