Medical Tests: Questions to Ask
Medical Tests: Questions to Ask

What to Ask Before a Medical Test

Must-ask questions that can save you time and money.

Your Wellness

Ever wonder why your doctor ordered a certain medical test? Or why you got stuck with a huge bill for a test your insurance wouldn't cover? Or why you didn't get results from a test?


As someone who once got stuck with medical bills in the thousands of dollars for testing that revealed nothing, I understand. These things happen. But there are things you can do to avoid them. At HealthyWomen, one of our goals is to empower you to talk with your health care providers and ask smart questions.

With changes in health insurance coverage over the past few years and more likely in the upcoming months, it's important to understand what tests you really need and whether your insurance will pay for them. Many things factor into whether you need medical tests, including your age, your family medical history, your personal medical history and any symptoms you may have.

The decision to proceed with testing is one you and your health care provider should make together.

Here are some questions the NIHSeniorHealth website suggests you ask your health care provider before having a medical test:

  • Why do I need the test?
  • What will it show about my health?
  • What will it cost and will my insurance cover it? (Your doctor's staff may be able to help you determine this, or you may need to research it on your own.)
  • What do I need to do to prepare for the test? (For example, you may need to have an empty stomach, or you may have to provide a urine sample.)
  • What steps does the medical test involve?
  • Are there any dangers or side effects?
  • How will I find out the results of my test?
  • How long will it take to get the results?
  • What will we know after the test?

The results come in, now what?

  • If your health care provider mails you a copy of the results, make sure you understand what they mean.
  • If someone calls you with the results or you visit your provider's office to get the results in person, ask for a written copy of the results.
  • If a specialist conducts the test, ask to have the results sent to your primary care provider.

Not sure how to communicate with your health care professional?
As health care becomes more complex and often less personal, it's important that we all know how to talk to our health care providers.

HealthyWomen blogger Sheryl Kraft offers some great advice on communicating with your medical professionals in A Midlife Woman's Wish List for Her Medical Team and 10 Important Steps to Better Communication With Your Doctor.

AARP also offers an excellent guide on How to Talk So Your Doctor Will Listen. In addition, the National Institutes of Health offers many tips for talking with your doctor.

And the National Institute on Aging provides three handy worksheets to prepare for your doctor's visit, designed particularly for older people. These worksheets can help you:

  • Prioritize your concerns. Before the visit, list what you'd like to talk about and decide what's most important so you can mention it first.
  • Note any changes in your health. List any changes in your life, health, medications and mood since your last visit. If possible, note when they occurred and how long they lasted.
  • List your medications. Take a copy of all your medications, what they are for and how much you take. Include any over-the-counter medications and vitamins and supplements.

And, of course, HealthyWomen.org is here to provide answers to many of your health questions.
Read more:
Health in Your 20s
Health in Your 30s
Health in Your 40s
Health in Your 50s
Health in Your 60s

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