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Doctor, can we talk?
Know what to ask to get the best care

What to know before you join a clinical trial

Depending on your condition, your health-care provider may suggest you join a clinical trial. Ask him or her these questions to find out if you’re a good candidate:

  • What’s the study looking for?
  • What kinds of tests will I have to undergo? What’s the time commitment?
  • How often will I have to visit the doctor or clinic?
  • Will I be hospitalized?
  • Will it cost me anything?
  • What will happen when the study ends?
  • What are my other treatment choices?
  • Are there any expected side effects of the treatment being tested? What about the side effects of standard treatment?
  • How long will the study last?

To learn more about trials, visit

The older you get, the more frequently you see your healthcare provider. Often, you’ll only spend 15 to 30 minutes with him or her, so you need to make the most of that time. Before your visit, write down your symptoms, concerns and questions. You’ll want to bring up the most important or pressing issues right away, so your doctor can address them first. Then, list any medicines, vitamins and supplements you’re taking, or simply bring the bottles with you. Make sure you also bring a pen, your eyeglasses, hearing aids or any other assistive devices you use, and, if you feel it would help, a friend or family member. (If you don’t want to share everything with your friend, you can ask him or her to step outside at the end of your appointment so you can talk privately with your doctor.) During your visit, don’t be afraid to ask these important questions:

What was that? Whether you didn’t hear what the doctor said, don’t understand a medical term used or are just plain confused, don’t let it slide. Politely ask your doctor to repeat him- or herself or to use easy-to-understand language.

What will it cost? Your healthcare provider may prescribe a medicine, test or treatment that your insurance doesn’t cover. If you inquire about costs, he or she may be able to find another treatment, such as a generic drug, that is covered by your health plan, saving you money.

What’s the next step? When your appointment is over, find out what, if any, follow-up is needed: Do you need to go for a test? Take a new medication? Visit a specialist? Get insurance approval or a referral? Return in three, four or six months? Make sure you understand what’s expected of you before you leave. And if you have any questions later, call and ask!

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