When you see a doctor for the first time or visit your longtime doctor just for a routine checkup, if you’re like most people, you probably spend no more than a few minutes talking about yourself or your problem. Chances are, a naturopathic physician—or any doctor who has a holistic (whole-body) approach to practicing medicine—would never settle for that.* Below are five key questions that I routinely ask my new patients. If you see a new doctor who doesn’t ask these types of questions or your own doctor has never inquired about such information, give as much of it as possible to him/her anyway. Your answers may well affect your diagnosis and treatment. If the doctor isn’t interested in hearing these details, consider replacing him with a doctor who is. Questions all doctors should ask…
Question #1: What’s your health time line? On my intake form for new patients, I ask for a health history that includes significant events they believe may have affected their health—both emotional events (such as marriage, divorce or loss of a loved one) and medical events (surgeries, accidents or major illnesses) may be listed by the patient. Besides giving me information I can use as a physician, filling out this form arms patients with self-awareness, so they become better prepared to ask questions and give more pertinent details during our appointments.
Question #2: How are your diet and digestion? To help assess digestive function and nutrient status, I ask about patients’ eating habits and how well they feel they digest their food. It’s also useful to learn what foods they crave, what foods they dislike and what they ate in childhood. Additionally, I want to know whether they have daily bowel movements or any pain with digestion and elimination. I’ve found that many patients don’t really know how to eat a balanced diet, and helping them correct that (with specific dietary goals) can lead to huge strides in overall health.
Question #3: What’s your daily fluid intake? Sometimes, a seemingly mysterious medical problem is simply due to a person getting too much caffeine, alcohol and/or soda (regular or diet). And some people drink zero ounces of plain water daily. These individuals often are surprised to hear (but later thankful when they start to feel better) that I recommend drinking half of one’s body weight in ounces of water daily! Low water intake can be hard on the kidneys and heart, in particular.
Question #4: How is your sleep? This includes total hours of sleep time, when they go to bed, when they get up and sleep interruptions. I also want to know where a person sleeps. Surprisingly, many people spend the night in a recliner or in a child’s bedroom. Knowing a person’s sleep patterns can offer significant clues that help diagnose and treat ailments.
Question #5: How’s your emotional health? Are you happy, restless, angry, resentful, peaceful, longing for change or generally content? This information gives me a better understanding of how best to treat the person I am caring for—emotional issues can worsen or cause physical symptoms.
*To find a naturopathic physician near you, consult The American Association of Naturopathic Physicians, Naturopathic.org…or for a holistic medical doctor, check with the American Holistic Health Association, AHHA.org.