University of Iowa Health Science Relations and
Dan Fick, MD
Associate Professor of Family Medicine
First Published: 2000
Last Revised: September 2003
Peer Review Status: Internally Peer Reviewed
Have you ever gone to the doctor with a list of questions, only to
find you don't have the courage to ask them? Don't worry, you're not
alone. Most of us have experienced that inability to talk with our
It's very easy to be intimidated by physicians. They know a lot
more about medicine than we do. Many people have the impression that
physicians are too busy and don't seem to have enough time to talk
with patients. And there are usually more people waiting to see the
doctor. However, communication with your doctor should not be a task.
Rather, it should come naturally. After all, you are trusting this
person with your health, and there are several steps you can take to
help this problem.
"Try to be a good consumer of heath care," says Dr. Dan Fick,
associate clinical professor in family practice at the University of
Iowa College of Medicine and UI Hospitals and Clinics staff
physician. "You're paying for the service, and the physician should
really have the mind-set that you are a customer."
When your doctor asks you how you feel, be specific and let him or
her know what is wrong. Don't just tell your doctor you have a
stomachache. Say you have a sharp pain on the right side of your
lower abdomen after you eat a large meal, Fick says. The more
specific you are, the better your doctor can understand your problem
and begin treatment. Include your personal medical history as well as
your family's medical history. Tell your doctor everything and let
him or her decide what is relevant to your condition, he adds.
"Make sure you understand what your doctor has told you. Repeat
the statement back to him or her and write it down while you're in
the office," Fick says.
Don't hesitate to ask for options. If your doctor recommends
surgery, ask what other treatments might be tried, and the
consequences of not having surgery at this time. "You shouldn't be
afraid to ask any question, no matter how simple you feel it may be,"
Fick says. "And seek a second opinion if you feel it's necessary."
If you're not satisfied with your doctor visit, tell your doctor.
If you are unhappy about how you are treated by any member of the
staff, say so. If you're unhappy with your doctor, find a different
doctor. Your doctor doesn't have to be your friend, but he or she
should be someone who will listen to you and answer your questions.