Moving Us Closer To Osler
A Miller Coulson Academy of Clinical Excellence Initiative

As you strive to know a new patient as a person, what are key questions that you usually ask them and why?


Johns Hopkins physicians share pearls of wisdom for our first Question of the Week.

Connecting with Patients | March 9, 2018 | <1 min read


Colleen Christmas, MD, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine

One of my favorite questions is, “Can you please tell me what a typical day is like?”  

This gives so much information, like how mobile and independent they are, who they do things with, what they enjoy, how much they eat and sleep, and how socially connected they tend to be.

Another favorite question that someone taught me is, “What is something your family or friends would say you are famous for with people who know you?”

This question often identifies something the person is proud of, and proud to let you know about them.

My final favorite question is, “What has life been like for you?”

This is very broad, but often can give insight into not only the patient’s history, but their values and degree of optimism.

Leah Wolfe, MD, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine

Three (of many) questions I always ask:

Who are the most important people in your life?

What inspires you/what do you enjoy?

What are you hoping for in a primary care doctor?

What do you think?

Do you want to add to the conversation? Please share!

Margaret Chisolm, MD, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine

I spend two hours with every new patient in order to get to know about them as a person—asking questions about their growing-up years, their education, work, relationships, personality style, etc. Can’t say any one question is more important than the other, in general. I ask these questions to be able to understand the origin of their problem(s), which guides their treatment.

I also want to know how they are explaining what brings them in: do they think it is something they Have, or is it related to who they Are as a person, or is it caused by something that they’re Doing, and/or is it coming from something they’ve Encountered (HIDE acronym/mnemonic). I often ask them these questions directly at the very beginning of the interview (using HIDE). They usually say what brings them is all four of these, and I say that is usually true, which paves the way for me to explain why I’ll be asking them a lot of questions—to explore the possible origin(s) of their problem(s).

One simpler question that I ask every patient, after I’ve asked all of these previous questions, is,

“Is there anything I haven’t asked that you think I should know [to better understand what’s been going on with you lately]?

Mike Fingerhood, MD, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine

I ask—“What do you do for fun?”—an open ended question for which a response reveals insight into family, friends, hobbies and other activities.

Typical answers are followed up to help me understand more about a patient’s personality

What do you watch on tv?

What type of movies (or books) do you enjoy?

Where did you go on your most recent travels?

What do you enjoy doing with your children or grandchildren?

Roy Ziegelstein, MD, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine

I often say to new patients:

I’m interested in knowing you as a person and I wonder if you could tell me who the most important people are in your life.

The response tells me a lot, including somewhat unexpected responses like, “There is no one,” or, “My dog.”

William Greenough, MD, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine

I’m geriatrician so my first questions are:

What did you do before you retired?

How many children and grandchildren do you have? This one in particular usually makes them come to life and tell stories.

Who lives in your neighborhood that’s a friend or neighbor?

I usually start with something nonmedical before diving in to the gory details of their usually complex illness and medical/surgical odysseys.