Q: I had been putting off getting a regular physical for a few years, and then COVID hit, so I continued to avoid the doctor while we were social distancing and staying home. Now that I am vaccinated, I am making my first appointment. What are some questions I should ask and things I should do to “make the most” out of my appointment? I don’t want to miss anything, since it’s been a while since I’ve seen a doctor.
As Benjamin Franklin famously said: “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
Although he was specifically referring to fire prevention at the time, these words of wisdom can easily apply to the reason why you should be getting your yearly physical.
I like the fact that you want to be proactive and want to make the most out of the appointment. For me as a physician, it is so rewarding when patients are invested in their own health and want to be part of the health care team. After all, it is your health we are talking about.
While most doctors will ask a litany of questions to see what symptoms you may be experiencing, it is so important to make sure you as a patient listen to your body, and not hesitate to ask questions or bring things up that may or may not be “important.” You know your body more than anyone else and are the best person to know if something has changed or doesn’t feel right.
As the doctor-patient relationship is sacred and confidential, this annual exam is the time to bring up any medical issue you may have. Truthfully discuss topics such as exercise, diet and substance use habits, including nicotine. If you do not reveal certain information, we may not be able to help you as much as we could.
Make sure to discuss the appropriate cancer screenings for your age, such as colonoscopy or mammograms. There have been many documented incidents where patients have missed these screenings due to COVID-19 and regrettably are now dealing with more advanced disease that could have been prevented.
Do not forget that there are important vaccines to discuss with your healthcare practitioner as well that may be appropriate for your age and situation. I also think knowing a little family medical history is helpful when possible, as it could aid in prevention and early detection of many medical conditions.
There may be topics that are uncomfortable to bring up such as weight, mood disorders or sexual issues. You won’t get the best care unless you give us the information. What better place to talk about these things than with your doctor?
Find a doctor that you trust and can develop a relationship of mutual respect. It’s OK to write things down so you don’t forget, and it’s vital to bring in the list of what medications you take, including over-the-counter products and supplements.
This exam is the perfect time to get your health in order. Take stock of yourself and make a plan to improve the things you know you should but have been delaying due to the pandemic. Gyms are opening up, the weather is nice enough outside to walk, run or bike, and it’s time to stop eating ice cream every night.
At the end of the physical exam and when the bloodwork comes back, make sure you know what to follow up on to have better health outcomes. Schedule appointments as needed and ask questions if you have them.
Thomas Adams quipped, “Prevention is so much better than healing because it saves the labor of being sick.” Now, you should be ready for your check-up.
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