Skip to Content (Press Enter)

Understanding the Doctor’s Orders

When you’re at the doctor’s office, do you sometimes feel like everyone’s speaking a foreign language, using words you don’t understand? Do you hesitate to ask questions because you don’t want to appear clueless?

You’re not alone! Most people don’t use those terms every day. Your healthcare professionals should use words you understand so you can participate in the discussion, but sometimes they slip into speaking jargon. Your doctor wants you to ask questions and be active in your healthcare. Quality healthcare is a team effort with YOU playing a key role.

Here are some tips to help you understand what’s being said at your doctor’s office visit:


Answer questions that the doctor and his or her staff ask you – remember complete honesty is best. They can’t help you if they don’t know everything.


Bring a list of questions with you. If the answer is confusing or unclear, interrupt to say, “I didn’t understand what you just said. Could you please tell me again?” If you still don’t understand the answer, ask again! You can say, “I still don’t understand. Could you try to say it in a different way?”


It’s wise to repeat the main points in your own words. You can say, “So I think this is what you said: _______________. Is that right?” The doctor or nurse can confirm that you got it, or give you more explanation.

Also, bring a friend or family member who can help take notes when you visit with the doctor. Sometimes they can think of questions you might not think to ask.

Other Questions

Depending on what you and your doctor discuss, you may want to ask other questions, such as:

  • What is my diagnosis?
  • What are my treatment options and the benefits of each?
  • How long will it take for me to get better and will I have side effects?
  • What is the test for and will I need one?
  • How long will it take me to get the results and what will they reveal?
  • What medicine are prescribing, how do I take it and are there side effects?
  • Why do I need surgery or are there other options?
  • Do I need to change my daily routine?
  • Do you have any written instructions, brochures, videos or websites that may help me learn more?

Note: Write down what you’ve discussed in your appointment (or have your friend do it) so you can read it later. Remember, don’t be afraid to speak up. It’s your body and you should understand how to care for it.

Share this story