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Talking with Your Doctor

Talking with Medical Specialists: Tips for Patients

Your doctor may send you to a specialist for further evaluation, or you may request to see a specialist yourself. Your insurance plan may require you to have a referral from your primary doctor. A visit to the specialist may be short. Often, the specialist already has seen your medical records or test results and is familiar with your case. If you are unclear about what the specialist tells you, ask questions.

Older man talking with a medical specialist

For example, if the specialist says you have a medical condition that you aren’t familiar with, you may want to say something like: “I don’t know much about that condition. Could you explain what it is and how it might affect me?” or “I’ve heard that is a painful problem. What can be done to prevent or manage the pain?”

You also may ask for written materials to read, or you can call your primary doctor to clarify anything you haven’t understood.

Ask the specialist to send information about any diagnosis or treatment to your primary doctor. This allows your primary doctor to keep track of your medical care. You also should let your primary doctor know at your next visit how well any treatments or medications the specialist recommended are working.

Questions to Ask Your Specialist

  • What is my diagnosis?
  • What treatment do you recommend? How soon do I need to begin the new treatment?
  • Will you discuss my care with my primary doctor?

If You Need Surgery

In some cases, surgery may be the best treatment for your condition. If so, your doctor will refer you to a surgeon. Knowing more about the operation will help you make an informed decision about how to proceed. It also will help you get ready for the surgery, which makes for a better recovery.

Ask the surgeon to explain what will be done during the operation and what reading material, videos, or websites you can look at before the operation.

Find out if you will have to stay overnight in the hospital or if the surgery can be done on an outpatient basis. Will you need someone to drive you home? Minor surgeries that don’t require an overnight stay can sometimes be done at medical centers called ambulatory surgical centers.

Questions to Ask Your Surgeon

  • What is the success rate of the operation? How many of these operations have you done successfully?
  • What problems occur with this surgery? What kind of pain or discomfort can I expect?
  • What kind of anesthesia will I have? Are there any risks associated with its use in older people?
  • Will I have to stay in the hospital overnight? How long is recovery expected to take? What does it involve? When can I get back to my normal routine?

Do you have questions about palliative care and hospice? Read about how to care for the seriously ill.

For More Information About Talking with Specialists

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
1-800-232-4636 (toll-free)
1-888-232-6348 (TTY/toll-free)
cdcinfo@cdc.gov
www.cdc.gov

Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services
1-800-633-4227 (toll-free)
1-877-486-2048 (TTY/toll-free)
www.medicare.gov

MedlinePlus
National Library of Medicine      
www.medlineplus.gov