Ask and You Shall Receive


By Alexandra Gutierrez, R.N., BSN, Chair, PMC Patient Education Committee

Three questions to help you and your care partners better understand your health

Studies have shown that low health literacy—the inability to read and understand health information—affects more than 90 million Americans. In fact, most people need help understanding healthcare information, regardless of their reading level.

Think about when you take your dog or cat to the veterinarian. You probably ask the staff lots of questions, right? “How long will Fido need to be on this medication?” “What can I do to make sure Fluffy swallows her pill?” “What should I do to care for Spot’s stitches?” You ask questions because your pet is important to you.

Now, what about the last time you went to the doctor, or you or a loved one was in the hospital? Did you ask your doctor or nurse many questions? Did you understand what they were saying to you about your condition or medications? And if you didn’t understand, did you ask someone to explain it to you again?

Aren’t you and your good health as important as your pet?

Talk to Your Healthcare Team

You might be a little intimidated by your doctors. After all, they spent eight or more years in higher education. They have to be pretty smart to complete medical school, internships, residencies and fellowships, right? So, in your mind, these doctors and nurses, who are highly educated and highly trained, have all the medical answers and shouldn’t be questioned.

You may also go in with fixed notions about what is wrong or what should be done for you, based on past experiences or what you’ve heard from family and friends. “My Aunt Sally had this exact same symptom and this is what was done for her.”

You may not really hear what your healthcare professional is telling you, because you already know what they’re going to say—at least you think you do. Or you might not want to take up too much of their time because you know how busy they are. Or they might use medical terms you aren’t familiar with.

Ask Me 3

What can you do to make sure you understand what your healthcare team has told you and, just as important, what is expected of you once you go home?

Learn to “Ask Me 3.”

Ask Me 3 is a program designed to help promote shared information between healthcare providers and patients. Originall developed by the National Patient Safety Foundation’s Partner ship for Clear Health Communication, Ask Me 3 teaches staff members to encourage patients to ask their providers three essential questions so they will understand their illnesses better and any other concerns they may have.

The questions are:

1. What is my main problem? What is really wrong? Do I have a bad heart or is it something else? You may have more than one health issue. Diabetes often leads to heart problems, but diabetes may still be the main concern.

2. What do I need to do? For example, when you get home from the hospital, when you pick up your prescription or when you go for therapy. Make sure you know exactly what is expected of you after you’ve talked to your healthcare team.

3. Why is it important for me to do this? If you don’t understand what your main problem is and don’t know what you need to do, you won’t understand why it is important for you to follow the doctor’s orders once you’re on your own or a family member is caring for you.

Using these three simple questions can help you recover better, and keep you from returning to the doctor’s office or be readmitted to the hospital for the same health issue.

Know the Right Words

Every profession has its own terminology and lingo—words that everyone in that profession knows and understands but might be confusing to others. Healthcare is no different. Has someone told you that you need a procedure? That just means something that is done to treat your problem, such as an operation.

Here are some words that your healthcare team might use but that you might not readily understand.

If someone uses a term you don’t know or you aren’t sure of the meaning, ask him or her to explain it more clearly for you.

Words Used In Healthcare Instructions

Watch a Video on This Important Program 

Go to to view an informative video on how to use Ask Me 3 for your next doctor’s visit or hospital stay.


Some information in this article is from the National Network of Libraries of Medicine,

Ask Me 3 is used under contract with the National Patient Safety Foundation,