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Talking to your doctor

Before the consultation

Do a bit of research before you see your doctor. Websites like this one, and those in our 'Useful Contacts' sections, will help you realize that your problem is very common and nothing to be embarrassed or shy about, and will help you prepare the best questions to ask your doctor.

Initiating the discussion

If you say something like "I have a problem which I want to discuss with you, but I find it difficult to talk about," the doctor will immediately be on your side. Another possibility is to write a few lines about your problem, take the note with you to your appointment and ask the doctor to read it. Or print a page from this website and take it with you to use as a starting point. Don't worry if talking makes you nervous or tearful – doctors are used to people being upset.

Ask questions

It sounds a simple thing to do, but when you're sitting in front of the doctor you might get embarrassed or worried that you're wasting their time. You're not! Doctors like a patient to participate in the conversation and ask questions. Always ask for something to be explained again if you don't understand it the first time. 
If you are prescribed medication you should find out:
  • How long will I need to take the treatment?
  • How will I know if the treatment is working?
  • Are there any side effects?
  • What do I do if I get those side effects?
  • Do I need to come back for a follow-up appointment?
If you have been given a provisional diagnosis until you have had tests to confirm the diagnosis, it is always worth asking the doctor "what else could it be?"
If you are having surgery, how can you give informed consent unless you know what the likely outcome is? So, don't be afraid to ask questons, such as:
  • How many of these operations have you done?
  • What sort of results do you get?
  • How do you compare to the national average?
  • What are the risks?
  • How likely is this surgery to make me better?
A good summary of questions to ask, and tips on what to do before, during and after your appointment, can be found here.

Take a list, make a list, leave a list

Taking a short list of questions that really matter to you can be very useful. Also, you may find it useful to make notes during the consultation so that you have a record of what the doctor has said. Some forward-thinking doctors will allow you to record the conversation. It sounds a slightly embarrassing thing to do, but if you ask at the beginning of the consultation: "Look, I'm a bit worried I won't remember all this. Do you mind if I record our conversation?" your doctor shouldn't have any objections. Finally, as well as making a list of the things you can do for yourself, it is worth leaving a list of the things you've agreed the doctor will do for you – an aide memoire for him or her.


You may be concerned about confidentiality. The best way of dealing with this is to ask the doctor: "I have a rather embarrassing/personal problem that I want to discuss with you, but I am worried about confidentiality. How confidential is our discussion? Who will see the notes you make?" Everyone working with your doctor – not just the doctors and nurses – has to keep information confidential.

What if you don't like your doctor?

You may dislike your doctor, or you may like him/her but feel he/she would be unsympathetic to this particular problem. If you genuinely don't like your doctor, you should change. Some practices will let you change to another doctor within the practice, or will let you make all your appointments with other doctors within the practice without officially changing. Some practices don't allow this, in which case your only option would be to change to another practice.
If you like your doctor, but don't want to discuss this particular problem with him/her, simply say to the receptionist: "Just for this one appointment, I would like to see Dr Y instead of Dr X."
Click on the video below for Dr Phil Hammond's top tips on getting the most out of your consultation with your doctor.


Talking to your doctor can help get to the bottom of your problem!