How to Disagree With Your Doctor

Being able to communicate openly and honestly with your physician is an important step in getting the right health care, yet many people feel uneasy disagreeing with their doctor's suggestions. Learn to be more assertive with your doctor and be a better advocate for yourself to get better medical care.


  1. Image titled Disagree With Your Doctor Step 1
    Give your doctor the right information when seeking a diagnosis. Sometimes a misunderstanding or an inaccurate diagnosis can occur because you haven't provided your doctor with all the details needed to make an accurate diagnosis. It is very important to give your doctor a proper, thorough picture of your symptoms, feelings, and any particular episodes you've experienced that have caused pain, felt bad, or have hampered your daily activities in some way.
    • If you find that you can't remember all the symptoms, or that you "blank out" when talking to your doctor, keep a notebook and record the symptoms as they occur. It can help to note the times, location, duration, and dates too, as this may be important for your doctor. It is better to provide more information than less, as your doctor will know what to discard and what to pay attention to.
    • Be as accurate as you can be when describing your symptoms. If you have a raft of symptoms, list them, and then leave it up to your doctor to prioritize what may or may not be important. Doctors given this option at the beginning of an appointment have been shown to be more attentive and focused than when not given such a list. [1]
    • Don't leave out self-medicated treatments, such as vitamins, natural health remedies, herbs, and generally available remedies. Your doctor needs to know what you're taking already to be able to ascertain whether or not these treatments have some bearing on your condition. Equally, tell your doctor which vaccines you have and have not had, or when you last had them, in case you're due for boosters, etc.[2]
  2. Image titled Disagree With Your Doctor Step 2
    Be receptive and open to listening to your doctor when he or she delivers a diagnosis and treatment options. Your doctor is providing you advice as a result of years of training and extensive experience. If your doctor is suggesting a particular course of treatment or has made a particular diagnosis, there will be a sound basis for it and it may make good sense. Before you raise your disagreement, hear the doctor out.
    • Don't be afraid to ask for a repeat of anything the doctor says, including asking for the explanation to be made in terms that you can understand. In addition, it is perfectly fine to ask for a written summary of what the doctor is telling you. This allows you to take home the diagnosis, the treatment options, and any other information and read it through as you're thinking about the options.[3]
    • Tell your doctor that you'd like time to think it through and that you'll make another appointment shortly to discuss the next steps, even if this is in 24 hours time.
  3. Image titled Disagree With Your Doctor Step 3
    Be knowledgeable about your health issues. If you're diagnosed with a chronic disorder or a disease, consider doing your own research. Keep up-to-date on available treatments, medications and research developments. There is never any harm in raising information that you've taken the time to research in relation to your disease. Get brochures from the doctor, read medical literature, or take advantage of reputable medical websites.
    • A reputable website can be discerned from some of the following indicators: it is endorsed or run by a medical association responsible for registering, educating, or informing doctors; it is run by or endorsed by government agencies responsible for health and community well-being; it is renowned as a quality source of medical information by doctors, nurses, and other medical health professionals; it has a long-established tradition as being a trusted source of medical knowledge in print form and is now also available online.
    • If you have access to medical journals and have a good analytical and research mind, you might like to research these as well as the generally available information. Keep in mind, however, that your layperson's knowledge will not incorporate the extensive practical understanding that someone medically trained has.
    • Write down your research questions. You can take these with you as prompts when sitting with your doctor.
    • Bear in mind that your doctor needs time to digest the information you present if he or she is not aware of new treatments or is being presented with a new conclusion or viewpoint of your condition or disease as a result of your research. Do not be offended if they ask for time to consider; this is a sign of respect for your efforts and a need to think it through.
  4. Image titled Disagree With Your Doctor Step 4
    Know how to ask your doctor questions after a diagnosis or prior to treatment. One of the most difficult things for many patients is knowing how to ask questions of a doctor, questions that will elicit targeted answers and can help you to properly understand what is happening. Partly emotions stand in the way but partly it's also about knowing what to ask. Some of the questions that it can help to know to ask include:[4]
    • Can you tell me what you think is causing my problem?
    • Is it possible that my problem has other causes, or could more than one condition or disease be contributing to it?
    • What tests will you do to diagnose the problem?
    • How reliable or good are the tests you're suggesting at identifying the problem or condition?
    • Are the tests safe?
    • How will this condition progress? What is my long-term outlook if I do have treatment? What is the long-term outlook if I don't?
    • What are my treatment options? Are some of the treatment options more effective than others? What are side effects of each treatment option? Are some riskier than others?
    • If my symptoms change or get worse, what should I do? When should I contact you?
    • Have you taken all of my current medications into account? Do I need to worry about the possibility of adverse interactions with any other medications you're going to prescribe for me?
    • How do I monitor for side effects of the medications I'm taking?
    • Are you willing to help me to combine an alternative therapy with your suggested treatment? (Have a therapy in mind.)
  5. Image titled Disagree With Your Doctor Step 5
    Ask for a suitable time to raise questions. If you're not sure you understand what is happening, ask questions until you feel comfortable. Be up front about the need to ask questions of your doctor. If you get the sense that your doctor is rushed at the moment of diagnosis, be ready to tell your doctor that you need to go away and think about the matter but that you will have questions, and ask for a time when your doctor will be happy to sit with you and respond to them. This alerts your doctor to needing to prioritize your next appointment as one for answering questions; in a time-starved profession, this is an important heads up.[5]
  6. Image titled Disagree With Your Doctor Step 6
    Have confidence. You're not alone in being afraid or worried about speaking frankly and openly with your doctor. Even people who are professionally trained to ask questions, like lawyers, can clam up in the doctor's surgery. [6] Start by acknowledging that doctors are people too and they are not sitting on a pedestal above you, and that they are there to help you with your medical concerns. Rely on being assertive rather than being aggressive, timid, or impolite.
    • Remember that you have a right to ask questions and to be properly informed.
    • Speak frankly. This is the time to voice your concerns. Say, for example, your doctor recommends you have an endoscopic exam to test for Helicobacter pylori but you're worried about the discomfort and would prefer a noninvasive test like the urea breath test. Find out what other testing methods are available, and if you have a particular test or treatment in mind, let your doctor know.
    • Don't stay buttoned up about financial concerns. If your doctor has referred you to an expensive specialist that you can't afford or your medical insurance won't cover, speak up. Tell your doctor who is within your price range (check your insurance, or explain your budget), so that your doctor can reassess and find someone else who will be suitable for you.[7] The same goes for medication costs.
    • Realize that a doctor who is informed of your concerns is a doctor who is able to more sensitive to your needs. If you don't speak up, your doctor is left with assuming that you're happy for things to progress the way that he or she has suggested.
  7. Image titled Disagree With Your Doctor Step 7
    Get support. If you don't feel able to voice your concerns yourself (for example, language barriers, stress, depression, fear, stuttering, etc.), ask someone you can trust to come along with you. You can still do the research and provide your support person with the list. You may find that you don't even need this person to speak for you, that their presence is sufficient strength for you, but it ensures that someone is caring for you. Even if you do most of the talking, your friend can help you remember important points you want to make or issues you and the doctor spoke about.
    • Many hospitals will provide you with a patient advocate, representative, or ombudsman if you need support in voicing your concerns.
  8. Image titled Disagree With Your Doctor Step 8
    Be clear about why you're disagreeing. It will help both you and your doctor if you can clarify why you're disagreeing with a diagnosis or treatment option. For example, if you're concerned that your purported treatment time is about to clash with a major family commitment, ask your doctor if it's possible to postpone treatment by giving the real reason. The human factor will help your doctor be more attuned to your needs than simply saying "Can't we delay treatment?". The latter question suggests to your doctor that you're unwilling to be treated instead of making it clear that you simply need a short postponement for a family event.
  9. Image titled Disagree With Your Doctor Step 9
    Act as your own coach. Think of the medical staff as your team or partner. It is your health and you ultimately get to be the boss and make the decisions but you also get to benefit from their experience and knowledge.
    • Be respectful of the doctor, reception, and nursing staff. From the outset, don't forget that you and your doctor are on the same team. It isn't helpful to view this process in a confrontational manner, and most doctors want to avoid confrontation. Being nasty, abusive, or upset won't help your cause. Be polite as well as firm.
    • Remember that you have the right to refuse treatment or tests. If you're unhappy with the options presented, you can seek further opinions, or opt out of treatment or tests. It's your body and your choice; just be sure to keep in mind the wishes of your loved ones and others who care about you.
    • If you don't get along with, trust, feel comfortable with, or even like your existing doctor, seek advice from another doctor or even change your doctor. This may not always be possible but it is a perfectly acceptable action, and can be done with civility.


  • GPs will always interpret symptoms in light of the most common causes and conditions for them. Once those are eliminated, including by specialists or other GPs or treatment failing, it is vital to inform the doctor that common condition isn't what's going on.
  • If you feel your physician isn't giving your concerns adequate importance, get a second opinion or consider changing doctors.
  • Some conditions are hard to diagnose and you may have to go through several completely different rounds of diagnosis/tests/treatment to find out what's really going on.
  • MedWatch ( is a good site to use for learning about the adverse effects of medications. MedlinePlus ( provides a lot of good medical information to help your research.
  • Ask a Consulting Pharmacist about interactions between your new prescriptions, your diet, vitamin supplements and old prescriptions. A treatment that may help a lot can be completely canceled out by taking a common over the counter drug or even reverse its effects, or by another prescription causing those problems. Get the pharmacist's advice on prioritizing treatments to avoid problems and the pharmacist's suggestions if your prescription would put you at risk or fail to work because of another necessary prescription. Doctors don't know as much on prescription interactions as pharmacists. Especially if any of your conditions are rare the pharmacist is much more likely to recognize interaction problems.
  • Use humor when speaking to the doctor. Laughter really is the best medicine.
  • Specialists will always interpret symptoms within their specialty first. That's what they're trained to do.
  • Get a support person and make sure your support person, who isn't sick, has your list and all of the information you gathered. Give your questions to the support person. Some doctors literally do not listen to what the patient says, but will listen when a caregiver or support person says the same things. This is especially important if symptoms that interfere with communication can mimic disorientation, confusion or loss of mental capacity.
  • If you have a billing concern, it's probably not your doctor you need to speak with, although you can raise it with him or her and ask who you need to consult. For large surgeries and hospitals, there will probably be a billing department.[8]


  • If you need long term pain management, seek a pain clinic. GPs are more used to pain treatment for short term acute problems and suspicious of chronic pain complaints because drug addicts try to get extra pain medications. Pain specialists have a much better understanding of their specialty and a deeper knowledge of which drugs are better for long term maintenance as opposed to short term recovery from surgery, etc.
  • Avoid approaching your doctor with a confrontational manner; as already outlined above, most doctors avoid confrontation. If you have done your research, have clarity on what concerns you and have good information about the options you prefer, your doctor will listen and try to be cooperative.
  • Be very careful about recommending treatment options or seeking medical interventions that will cause more problems, such as having too many CT scans. Some medical processes can cause medical conditions and diseases if misused or overused; listen to your doctor's advice.
  • If your doctor remains uncooperative or has a poor listening manner, seek advice from another doctor or medical team.

Things You'll Need

  • Internet access
  • Library with medical journals
  • Pen and notepad to make notes, lists, questions
  • Negotiation and assertiveness skills

Sources and Citations

  • Research source –
  1. Deborah Franklin, Patient Power: Making Sure Your Doctor Really Hears You,
  2., What to do when you disagree with your doctor,,,20360209_2,00.html
Show more... (6)

Article Info

Featured Article

Categories: Featured Articles | Health Care and Medical Information