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3 great ways to ask ‘How are you?’

small talk doctor and patient
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How are you?

I’m fine thanks. And you?

I’m very well, thank you.


Did you learn the dialogue above when you were studying beginner’s English? Most people have learned a form of it. It’s great, and it works. As you saw last week, small talk is important to establish empathy and connection. And questions to ask when you meet someone are a key part of that.


Yet if you want to show off your spoken English for the OET, use a variety of language. If you’re studying Medical English, here are 3 alternative ways for a medical professional to ask ‘How are you?’

1. How have you been?

This is a great question if you’re a doctor or nurse, and you have a returning patient. You may not remember them from their last appointment with you. But they will remember you. This question shows that you recognise they’ve visited you before. And while they’re answering, you can look up their notes and re-familiarise yourself with their situation. You can then ask more specific questions once they’ve settled in.

2. How are you doing?

Use this question in present continuous for a patient you’re seeing regularly. Asking this means you acknowledge that their progress may be different from week to week. It’s also more specific than a general ‘how are you?’ question. Plus, it implies that it’s OK if they’re not making the progress they’d like. It’s a temporary situation, and it will improve.

3. How is everything?

This question allows the patient to define what ‘everything’ means for them. It’s useful if they have many complaints that you’re treating, and lets them pick out what they want to discuss. It also shows that you’re aware how their life situation might affect any health problems they have. It’s a good question if you have more time, but if you only have a ten-minute consultation, this might not be appropriate.

Want to improve your Medical English terminology? SLC is here to help.

Stephanie Lam
About the author

Stephanie Lam is a writer, journalist, and English teacher. She specialises in writing fabulous words for the wellbeing and health industries.

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