Questions You Should Ask Your Doctor

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I often get questions from people who ask: “I take this medicine or that medicine for this health problem. What do I do if there’s an emergency?”

I usually start off by saying: Well, what did your doctor say?  The response is often “I haven’t really asked.” Not many do. OK, how bad is your condition?  “Umm, I’m not too sure…I haven’t really asked that, either, but the doctor wants me to do this test”. What’s the test for?   “I’m not really sure, but I’m supposed to get it done”  Do you see a problem here?

In the movie “I, Robot,” the hologram representing the deceased robotic designer says: “My responses are limited. You must ask the right questions.” The main reason for people being unclear about why they’re taking this medicine or why they should undergo this or that test is that they don’t ask the right questions. Or any questions at all.

For various reasons, patients seem to be reluctant to ask medical professionals important questions. When I first opened my medical office, I would recommend a medicine for a patient with a medical condition and I was always surprised when the only response was “yes, doctor”.


I tell medical students that the secret to a successful career as a health provider is to:

  1. Give your patients the same advice you’d give a member of your family (to me, this is number one.)
  2. Do no harm (the other number one).
  3. Keep up with the data.
  4. Be objective; don’t judge people.
  5. Keep the patient informed.
  6. Keep all patient encounters confidential.
  7. Make staying healthy a team effort.

Your health is, indeed, a team effort; one in which the patient, not the doctor, plays the most important role. One of the best ways to communicate with your doctor or other health care provider is by asking. If you’re a member of the preparedness community, you’ve accumulated all this knowledge, such as learning how to grow food, how to store preps, make shelters, perform first aid, and more. Why not learn more about your own health? 


Anyone that takes medications or is offered a test or procedure should ask their doctor lots of questions. Armed with this knowledge, you’ll have a better chance to deal successfully with medical issues. That means a better chance to stay healthy in uncertain times, when professional medical care might be scarce.

Answers to medical questions might be simple, but sometimes they’re complex. You have the right to have things explained in plain English; medical professionals speak medicalese, but you might not. If you don’t understand the explanation, ask them to describe things in terms you understand. The more you ask, the more it’s clear that you want to be an active partner in your care.

Here are some questions that you should ask your doctor:

1. What will the medicine do for me?

What will the medicine do for me?   The response might be: “You have high cholesterol; this drug will lower it”. Ok, fine, but how does it work to do that?  What benefit will I reap from being on it?   The answer might be: “It’ll decrease your chances of dying from coronary artery disease”. This is a more logical reason to take the medicine than just lowering some lab value.

2. What will the medicine do to me?

All drugs have the potential for side effects and adverse reactions. It may be a factor as to whether you decide to take the medication, so you should be aware of them. Sometimes, side effects are related to the medicine’s primary purpose.  Aspirin, for example, could cause bruising due to its blood thinning effect.  Sometimes, an adverse reaction is unrelated to the purpose: Antibiotics could give you diarrhea.

Sometimes, the side effect is the reason to use the medicine.  Ritodrine, an IV asthma medicine, was found to coincidentally relax uterine muscle. As such, it was used for a time to stop premature labor.

3. Will this new medicine change the way my other medicines work, or their effectiveness?

A lot of people have more than one medical condition and see more than one doctor.  Don’t think that doctors have some kind of mental telepathy with each other.  Some are pretty smart people, but they’re not psychic. Medicines can interact with each other; together, they may have a stronger or lesser effect; in some cases, they might cancel each other out altogether.

4. This test you want me to take, what are the things you’re looking for?

If a doctor asks you to have a test done out of the blue, what medical issues he might find?  Which of these does the doctor believe you are most at risk for?

5. Are there risks to this test?

Tests might be necessary, but they are not always without risks. An individual CAT scan of the chest and abdomen, for example, won’t kill you, but does give the equivalent radiation exposure of at least 100 standard chest x-rays.

Cardiac catheterization is a test where they check for blocked coronary arteries (which is the cause of heart attacks).  During this test, they run a line and infuse dye into your coronaries all the way from an artery in your thigh or arm.  The procedure, considered quite safe, still has a small risk of actually causing a heart attack.

6. Is this test or medicine absolutely necessary?  What happens if I don’t take this medicine or don’t do this test?

You should be aware of how the test’s results will impact your treatment. Will anything change as a result of having the test done?  If a test doesn’t affect the plan of action, is it really necessary?

7. Would my condition improve if I changed my diet or lifestyle?

I’ve had periods in my life where my weight has fluctuated. When I’m heavier, my blood pressure goes up.  Staying at a normal weight keeps my blood pressure within normal limits. 

Other lifestyle changes can significantly impact your help. Not smoking and exercising regularly will improve your stamina. The same goes for type 2  Diabetics.  If you adhere to a good anti-diabetic diet, you might need fewer diabetic meds or a lower dosage.

8. Is there a natural alternative to the medicine you’re prescribing?

This is a tricky one, as many conventional practitioners aren’t really aware of the benefits of medicinal herbs and other natural products. As such, they may have no more knowledge about them (or less) than you do.

But, in this era of shortages, you might have to depend on natural products one day. Why not ask about what might actually work to treat your condition? Let’s take thyroid disease.  There are a number of natural desiccated thyroid supplements on the market.  If you’re interested in trying something that you could stockpile, ask the doctor if they would be willing to monitor your thyroid levels for a time on the natural supplement.  In this way, you can identify whether the supplement would actually work to keep your thyroid levels at normal. 

9.  Could you explain your plan for my long-term care?

Is this treatment a temporary solution, or will I have to be on this medication the rest of my life?  This will help you rethink your medical supplies strategy.

Now, be honest: Did you ask any of these questions when you were prescribed this medicine or told to do this or that test? If you did, good for you. Was your healthcare provider receptive to answering? They should be. If not, well, you might have to find someone who is.

In the end, the more you learn, the more in charge you are of your own life.  If I was told I had diabetes, I’d ask my doctor for every piece of literature that he or she had on the topic.  I’d be on the computer, and by the end of the week, I’d know a heck of a lot more about the subject. You should have the same attitude towards your health.

Your obligation to your family and yourself is to have a plan of action to deal with medical issues in good or bad times.  It’s not just about having medical supplies as part of your preps, it’s an actual plan on what to do if this or that medical issue happens and your doctor is unavailable.  It’s your health; take charge of it and you’ll succeed, even if everything else fails.

Joe Alton MD

Joe Alton, MD

Learn more about 200 medical topics in survival settings with a copy of the 4th edition of “The Survival Medicine Handbook: The Essential Guide For When Help is NOT On The Way” Plus, check out our entire line of quality medical kits and individual supplies at

Hey, don’t forget to check out our entire line of quality medical kits and individual supplies at Also, our Book Excellence Award-winning 700-page SURVIVAL MEDICINE HANDBOOK: THE ESSENTIAL GUIDE FOR WHEN HELP IS NOT ON THE WAY is now available in black and white on Amazon and in color and color spiral-bound versions at

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