Communicating with Health Care Professionals

doctor and patient consult

After a cardiac event or surgery, it is important to follow-up with your medical team.

You can help improve the care you receive at follow-up appointments by talking with your health care team about your concerns, asking questions and getting the facts. Discuss all aspects of your treatment regimen — including diet changes, exercise and medications — with your health care team. Usually, office visits and phone calls are shorter and more rushed than you (or your professionals) want. Simple communication skills can help you get what you need – over the phone, at the hospital or during office visits. 

Questions for your health care team

Doctors, nurses, pharmacists and other health care professionals can help you avoid problems associated with taking too little or too much of your medication. They can also help you avoid dangerous interactions or side effects between other medications or foods in your diet. 

Your health care professionals will keep working with you to adjust your treatment plan if you have serious side effects. Below you'll find questions to ask your health care team to help you take an active part in your heart and stroke care. Print out these questions and take them to your next medical appointment.


Taking medications isn't as simple as swallowing a pill. Medications can help only if you take them as prescribed. Take part in decisions regarding your treatment, follow the treatment plan you and your health care team agree on, watch for problems and become actively involved in solving them with your team. By following these guidelines, you can help reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke and achieve the fullest benefits from your treatment plan. Review the following questions with your health care team and take an active role in your health.

  • What is the name of the medication?
  • Is this the brand or generic name?
  • What is the medication supposed to do?
  • How and when do I take it, and for how long?
  • What foods, drinks, other medications or activities should I avoid while taking this medications?
  • Is there any written information available about the medication?
  • What happens if I miss a dose of my medication?
  • How often will I have to get the medication refilled?
  • How will I know that my medication is working?
  • What are the risks of taking this medication?
  • What are the risks of NOT taking this medication?
  • Are there less expensive medications for my condition?


Learn to read food labels so you can tell how much fat, sodium and other ingredients are in your diet. If your health care team tells you to "watch your diet" or make dietary changes, ask for specifics. Questions you can ask are:

  • What kinds of foods should I eat?
  • What kinds of foods should I avoid?
  • Should I restrict my calories or fat intake to a certain level?
  • What are some cooking tips that I should follow?
  • What do I need to know about eating out?
  • What can I eat at fast-food restaurants?
  • Do I need to see a nutritionist or dietitian? If so, can you recommend one?
  • Should I keep a diary of what I eat?
  • Are there any groups in the community that can help me with my nutrition goals?
  • How do I read food labels?
  • How can I control portion size?
  • How much sodium (salt) may I eat?

Losing weight

  • Why are weight control and regular physical activity important?
  • How much weight should I lose, and how fast? What is a realistic weight goal for me?
  • How often should I check my weight?
  • What should my daily calorie, fat and cholesterol intake be?
  • Are prescription diet pills appropriate for me?
  • Do I have to exercise to lose weight? If so, what kinds of activities do you recommend?
  • Once I lose weight, how do I keep it off?
  • What diet guidelines should I follow?
  • What are the best types of activities for me?
  • How much physical activity do I need to do?
  • How much weight gain is too much?
  • How can family and friends help?


  • What do my cholesterol numbers mean?
  • How often should I have my levels checked?
  • How does physical activity affect my levels?
  • What type of diet should I eat?
  • Will I need cholesterol-lowering medication?
  • How long will it take to reach my cholesterol goals?

High blood pressure

  • What should my blood pressure be?
  • How often should my blood pressure be checked?
  • What about home blood pressure monitors?
  • Should I use blood pressure machines at stores?
  • How does physical activity affect my blood pressure?
  • What's my daily sodium (salt) limit?
  • Will I need to take blood pressure medication?
  • Will I always have to take medication?
  • Why do I need to lose weight?

Physical activity

  • Why is regular physical activity important?
  • Can I exercise?
  • Can I play sports?
  • What are the best types of activities for me?
  • How much activity do I need?
  • Can I have sex?

Quitting tobacco

  • What can I do to stop the cravings?
  • How long do cravings last?
  • What about a nicotine patch or gum?
  • Can I take a smoking cessation medication?
  • When will the urges stop?
  • What if I start gaining weight?
  • How can I keep from gaining weight?
  • How can family and friends help?
  • What if I slip and go back to tobacco?
  • How long will it take to reduce my risk?

Heart and stroke health

  • What are my risk factors for heart disease?
  • Am I at risk for stroke?
  • What are the warning signs of heart disease and stroke?
  • Do I need to lose or gain weight for my health?
  • What is a healthful eating plan for me?
  • What kind of physical activity is right for me?
  • What is my blood pressure, and is it at a healthy level?
  • What is my blood cholesterol, and is it at a healthy level?
  • What can I do to lower my risk of heart disease and stroke? 
  • If you're a woman, ask: What should I know about the effects of menopause on my health?

Your Heart Surgery: Rehab and Recovery