How to get the most out of your doctor’s visit

April 14, 2020 in Preventive Care  •  By Miles Varn, MD
doctor's visit

Your annual doctor’s visit and checkup is a good opportunity to be an active partner in your care. Rather than simply sitting through your weigh-in, blood pressure check, and flu shot, now is the time to be proactive and ask your doctor key questions that can help you build a health and wellness strategy.

If your healthcare provider is pressed for time at your doctor’s visit and not able to answer all your questions during your visit, ask if he or she answers questions via email or if there’s a physician assistant or nurse practitioner in the office you could talk to.

Here are some of the questions you may want to ask your primary care physician at your next doctor’s visit:

  • What preventive care screenings do I need over the next year? Depending on your age, gender, and personal and family health history, recommended preventive screenings may include blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar checks, skin cancer screening, mental health assessment, PSA testing, hepatitis C screening, mammogram, PAP test, HPV test, colonoscopy, or other assessments.
  • Do I need any immunizations? Beyond an annual flu shot, your doctor may recommend other immunizations, including vaccination against pneumonia, HPV, shingles, chickenpox (if you’ve never had the disease), measles, mumps, and rubella (if you were born in 1957 or later), hepatitis A and B, and meningitis, and a tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis booster.
  • Does my family history put me at higher risk for any health problems and how can I mitigate my risk? Having first degree relatives (mother, father, sister, brother, or child) with certain health problems may increase your risk of developing the same problem. For example, if a first degree relative had a heart attack at a young age, you may be at greater risk for developing cardiovascular disease and having a heart attack. Another example is breast and ovarian cancer linked to the BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutations. Autoimmune diseases such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis are also influenced by genetics. If your family history does increase your risk, ask your doctor if you need to start recommended screenings sooner or undergo them more frequently and if there are any lifestyle changes you can make that may help lower your risk.
  • Why are you prescribing this medication and how long do I need to take it? If your doctor prescribes a medication for a chronic condition such as high cholesterol, diabetes, or high blood pressure, ask how the medication is supposed to help you manage the condition, what side effects you should be on the lookout for, if there are special instructions on how and when to take the medication (such as at bedtime or with food), whether there are lifestyle changes you could try first before starting medication, whether the medication may interact with other prescription or over the counter medications or supplements you take, and how long you should expect to take the medication.
  • How will I receive the results of any testing done today? Ask your doctor when your test results will be available and how they’ll be communicated to you. For example, do you need to call the office or will the doctor call you? Will the results be mailed or available through an online portal? What should you do if you have questions or concerns about the results?