Questions to Ask

Questions to Ask

You’ll get more out of your visit to your doctor or health professional and find it easier to make decisions if you understand the treatments, medicines or tests that they recommend – and that means asking questions.

Asking questions keeps you informed which helps you make the best health care decisions for you. It can also help keep you safe when receiving healthcare.

No one should leave a doctor’s appointment unsure about their health condition and what they need to do next.

Ask Me 3

Ask Me 3 encourages you to ask three questions at the end of every health appointment or consultation:

  1. What is my main problem?
  2. What do I need to do?
  3. Why is it important for me to do this?

SUmmary of the Ask me 3 questions

You can use the Ask Me 3 form to remind you to ask the questions and write down the answers when you see your doctor or other health professional. You can ask your health professional to write the answers for you.  A support person or carer can also do this for you.

While Ask Me 3 focuses on you asking questions, it is important that your health professional gives you answers that you understand. Your health professional should encourage you to ask questions, and allow enough time for questions and answers during your appointment.

Question Builder tool

Healthdirect’s Question Builder is a free online tool to help you think about questions you might like to ask your doctor, and to prepare for any questions they may ask you when you go to an appointment.

The tool was developed for Australian consumers by Healthdirect Australia and the Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care.

The Question Builder takes you through a series of steps:

  • selecting which type of appointment you are preparing for,
  • working out the questions that you would like to ask,
  • helping you to decide which ones are the most important questions so you can make sure you get them answered,
  • thinking about questions your doctor might ask so you can make sure you have the information they need.

You can then print or email your list of questions. Take your printed list to your appointment, or open the email on your phone or other device.

The Healthdirect website also has a list of questions you might want to ask before you decide about health care options. Some of the questions they suggest are:

  • What is the name of the condition? Is it known by any other names?
  • How serious is this condition?
  • What causes it?
  • Is it likely to get worse? Or is it likely to get better?
  • Would it help to see any other health professionals, such as specialists, physiotherapists, dietitians, or dentists?
  • Is there anything I can do to improve it myself?
  • How long is it likely to last?
  • What is the test for?
  • How accurate are the results of the test?
  • What will a positive result mean?
  • What will a negative result mean?
  • How do I prepare for the test (for example, by fasting beforehand)?
  • How soon do I need to have the test?
  • When and how will I get the results?
  • How effective is this treatment for someone like me?
  • Are there any risks or side effects?
  • How likely is it that I will experience a negative side effect?
  • How long will I need the treatment for?
  • Are there simpler, safer options?
  • What happens if I don’t do anything?
  • How quickly do I have to start the treatment?
  • Does the medicine have side effects and what should I do if I experience side effects?
  • What would happen if I don’t take the medicine?
  • Will it interact with any other medicines I take, including any vitamins, herbal medicine or other complementary medicine?
  • If the pharmacist offers me a generic brand of the medicine, is it ok to take it?
  • What should I do if I miss my regular dose?
  • How will the surgery help me?
  • What are the alternatives to surgery?
  • What might happen if I do nothing?
  • Out of 100 people who have had this surgery, how many felt better?
  • What could go wrong?
  • If you did this operation on 100 people, how many would have something go wrong?
  • How many times have you done this particular operation?  What were the results of those operations?
  • Are there simpler, safer options?
  • What are the costs?
  • How long will it take to recover?
  • How long before you can to get back to your normal life?
  • Who is the best surgeon for this particular operation?

5 Questions to ask before a test or treatment

Choosing Wisely Australia recommends asking your doctor 5 questions before you agree to any test or treatment. All tests, treatments, and procedures have some risk, even if it’s just discomfort from a blood test. It’s worth talking to your doctor about how much benefit there is, and what the risks might be. Asking these 5 questions can help make sure you end up with the right care for you:

  1. Do I really need this test, treatment or procedure? Tests may help you and your doctor or other health care provider determine the problem. Treatments, such as medicines, and procedures may help to treat it.
  2. What are the risks? Will there be side effects to the test or treatment? What are the chances of getting results that aren’t accurate? Could that lead to more testing, additional treatments or another procedure?
  3. Are there simpler, safer options? Are there alternative options to treatment that could work. Lifestyle changes, such as eating healthier foods or exercising more, can be safe and effective options.
  4. What happens if I don’t do anything? Ask if your condition might get worse — or better — if you don’t have the test, treatment or procedure right away.
  5. What are the costs? Costs can be financial, emotional or a cost of your time. Where there is a cost to the community, is the cost reasonable or is there a cheaper alternative?

You can find these questions in other languages on the Choosing Wisely Australia website.

Other useful resources

Northern NSW Health Literacy has a range of tools for consumers to help build their health literacy skills.  Their PLAN handout is a helpful tool for patients to get the most from a health care appointment. It has 4 parts:

  • Prepare: Suggestions for how to prepare for your appointment
  • Listen and share: Information you might need to know
  • Ask: Some questions to ask
  • Note down what you need to do next – the handout has space for you to write down answers.

You can read more tips on communicating with your doctor in Top tips for talking to your doctor from Jean Hailes or Better Health Channel’s Top tips for talking to your doctor.

Last Updated on 25 January, 2024.