Patient Checklist

General Medical

How do I pick a primary care doctor?
  • Ask a local doctor or nurse for a recommendation
  • Ask family members or friends who they see and if they like them
  • Try a first appointment and see if he/she is a good listener
What questions should I ask my doctor after a new diagnosis?
  • Ask if they would recommend that you see a specialist for this condition
  • Ask if further testing would add anything to your care
  • Ask what is the mainstay of treatment and what are other good alternatives
  • Ask for a pamphlet or handout about your diagnosis from your doctor/hospital
  • Search for non-profit organizations that run websites about your diagnosis, e.g.
Should I always get a second opinion?
  • It is always good to get a second opinion for any major procedure, treatment or therapy
  • Your doctor should feel comfortable with you getting a second opinion if you desire
  • If you feel comfortable with the doctor that you are dealing with and they explain things clearly, you do not necessarily need to get a second opinion
  • If your insurance company does not pay for a second opinion, you can always pay for one on your own – the cost is typically $300 - $1000
How do I seek out the right doctor for a second opinion or a specialist?
  • Start by asking your generalist for referrals
  • For rare conditions, use and explore which doctors have published research articles about your condition
  • Search for websites and societies that discuss your condition and who is treating it
  • Beware of marketing
  • Hospitals create “centers” to lure business, but remember, one doctor does not constitute a “center”
  • Patient satisfaction surveys are often misrepresented, and “top” scores and rankings in magazines are often paid for
Do I need to take this medication?
  • Ask what are the chances of something bad happening if you don’t take it
  • Ask if you can take another medication instead with fewer side effects
  • Ask if there is there a lower cost alternative and what is the difference


I need to have surgery – what should I ask my surgeon?
  • Ask how many of these surgeries do they perform per year
  • Ask if there a less invasive option for the surgery (laparoscopic or robotic versus open)
  • Ask what are the top 3 risks of the surgery
  • Ask how long will you be in the hospital
  • Ask if you will need to remain local after being discharged from the hospital
  • Ask what could happen if you don’t have the surgery
  • Run an older doctor’s advice by a younger doctor as older doctors have more experience, but younger doctors may be more skilled with newer techniques
I am going to have major surgery – is my local hospital a good option?
  • Ask how many of the procedure that you are having are performed there per year
  • Ask if they have an intensive care unit (ICU) with a practitioner in house 24 hours
  • Ask a hospital employee from your local hospital if they would have their care there – this is one of the most important metrics of a hospital’s performance
  • Beware of variations within hospitals – a hospital that is a center of excellence in one area may be far substandard in other areas
  • Look up a hospital’s performance at
  • Ensure that they have convenient visiting hours for you and your family
  • Ask if a family member stay overnight
How do I pick a hospital to deliver my baby?
  • What is the hospital’s C-section rate?* *(the national average is 20%)
  • Ask for a tour of the hospital to ensure you will be comfortable there
I have chronic back pain and have been recommended to have surgery for it - do I need back surgery?
  • Always get a second opinion
  • Consider getting an opinion from both a neurosurgeon and an orthopedic surgeon
  • Ask if physical therapy is a viable alternative


I was told that I have cancer – what do I do now?
  • For general information about your particular cancer, search using,
  • Ask your doctor what your primary treatment options are – are you a candidate for no treatment, surgery, chemotherapy, radiation or a combination?
  • If you are going to receive treatment, ask if it will give you a significant chance of cure or will it significantly prolong your life
  • Ask for a detailed list of the risks and benefits of treatment
  • Ask if this type of cancer run in families and if your family members should be tested
  • If you would like to consider being in a clinical trial, go to clinical to learn more about available trials
I have cancer and have been asked to enroll in a clinical trial – what is this and should I join one?
  • A clinical trial usually involves cutting edge treatment and can result in both potential good and harm
  • Ask for a clear list of risks and benefits
  • Ask about how you would be treated if not in the trial
  • Ask if your insurance will pay for it
  • If desired, ask to see the study protocol
I am considering alternative cancer therapies – are these efficacious?
  • If you are using any alternative therapy, discuss it with your primary care physician to ensure you understand the risks
  • Alternative therapies may have benefits, but they are less well defined than those of traditional therapies