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Questions for Your Patients

With the complexity of today’s health care, knowledge is the single most important tool practitioners can give patients to ensure their safety. Those patients who better understand their medical condition are empowered with information that could prevent mistakes from happening in their care.

As a practitioner, by posing the questions below, you can gauge if patients and their care givers are adequately informed. While you may know the answers to some, by asking the patient the question, the answer will reveal their knowledge of their medical condition. The questions are also posed as open-ended requiring the patient to elaborate as opposed to simply answering “yes” or “no.”

Practitioners who make a habit of asking patients the following questions are helping to equip patients with the knowledge that can keep them safe.

General Care

  • What questions are on your mind? Take the time to ask patients if they have any questions or concerns. Patients may seek information from the Internet and other sources that may differ from your advice. Discussing these differences can give the patient clearer understanding and enable the patient to make better decisions.
  • What medications are you on? Ensure patients tell you every medication, vitamin, and supplement that they are taking. Truthfully, some patients simply forget, so they should write it down. When your patients schedule appointments, ask them to make a list of all medications they are on and bring the list with them.
  • Do you know the number to call for test results? If a patient undergoes a test or procedure, they should receive the results. It is not sufficient to rely on the “no news is good news” motto because a phone call or message can too easily be missed.
  • Do you understand your options for hospital care? If a patient has the option of several hospitals, discuss the strengths of those hospitals so the patient can choose the best care for their condition. Hospital care may not be limited to a single procedure, and the patient should understand they may need follow-up care at that hospital. To help educate your patients about selecting hospitals, point them to the Maryland Health Care Commission Web site.

 Surgical Care

  • Are you prepared? As patients get ready for surgery, their safety often depends on how well prepared they are for the event. Go over the following questions to make sure your patient is ready.
    • Are your symptoms the same, better or worse since your last visit?
    • What prescription, over-the-counter medications or supplements are you currently taking, have stopped taking and are planning to take the day of surgery?
    • Describe your typical daily meals.
    • What allergies do you have or what allergic reactions have you had to medication?
    • What tests have you taken in preparation for surgery?
    • Are you scheduled for any other tests before surgery? If so, what?
    • What are you planning to eat and drink before surgery?
    • If you smoke or drink alcohol, what your plans before surgery?
    • What do you plan to wear and bring with you on the day of surgery?
    • Who is coming with you on the day of surgery?
    • Who do you contact in the event you get symptoms of a cold, the flu or an infection prior to surgery?
    • What day and time are you expected at the hospital?
    • Please repeat the surgical instructions you have been given.
    • What other questions do you have about the hospital stay I haven’t addressed?
    • Have you obtained surgery authorization from you health care insurance provider?
    • Do you have signed health directive (living will) on file?
  • Do you understand the procedure? The following questions help to inform them. If the patient hears discrepancies about the procedure from anyone involved, they can raise a red flag and possibly prevent an error from occurring.
    • What will the surgical procedure involve?
    • Where on the body is the procedure being performed?
    • How long have you told your family members the surgery is expected to take?
    • What questions do you have about the surgery?
    • What concerns do you have about the surgery?
  • What will your recovery involve? A patient should also be prepared for their experience after a procedure to improve their safety.
    • Who will take you home from the hospital?
    • Who will be helping you during recovery?
    • What do you expect in terms of recovery?
    • Are your family members/care givers informed about the surgical procedure and recovery?
    • Have you supplied contact information for reaching family members?

Let your patient know that their own understanding of their health matters. Many patients do not know the importance of being knowledgeable about this information, which puts their safety and health at risk.  The American Medical Association offers fact sheets on how to communicate with patients in a way that improves the quality of health care they receive. Please visit the Advocacy page of their AMA website for more information: