The next time you visit your doctor for an annual checkup, physical or exam, don’t just bring your Medicare card. Arriving at your appointment with the right questions can help you learn more about your overall health, ensure you’re getting the right preventative care, and even ease those late-night worries about a new mole, a nagging cough, or an unexpected twinge.
Bustle recently asked a group of physicians what questions they wished patients would bring up during their appointments. Answers ranged from “what screenings do you recommend for someone my age?” to “should I really be taking all of these vitamins?”
You may be taking a multivitamin because you feel like it’s the “healthy” thing to do, or maybe you’ve added a supplement to your routine because you have a friend who swears by its benefits.
But your doctor is exactly the person you should be consulting when it comes to any supplements, especially if you’re already taking any prescription medications. “Most people need few supplements, especially if they have a healthy diet,” [Dr. Lisa Doggett] says. “But massive amounts of advertising have created mass confusion on this topic.”
We also reached out to a couple of doctors to learn what patients should be asking during their annual checkups. Here’s what they suggest you ask, and why these questions are so important:
What are my numbers, and what do they mean?
Kristine Arthur, MD and internist at MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, California, advises paying close attention to all of those numbers doctors and nurses check during an annual physical - and learning what they mean.
“Everyone should be aware of their last BMI (body mass index) measurement as well as their blood pressure, cholesterol and fasting blood sugar numbers. These are all things that are normally checked at an annual physical and can be measured with a simple blood test. Be sure to speak up and ask for results. It is a good idea to keep a printout of your vital signs and lab results from each annual visit for comparison.”
Should I be concerned about a recent change in my body?
If you discover a new mole, experience an unexpected chest pain, realise your menstrual cycle is less regular than usual, feel like there’s been a shift in your energy level or emotional range, or notice any other changes to your physical or mental health, tell your doctor.
Actually, before you tell your doctor, write the unusual symptom down. Keep track of what you noticed, when you noticed it, and whether it’s consistent, reoccurring, sporadic, etc. That way you’ll have better information to bring to your appointment—and you won’t forget to bring it up.
“Write down any and all medical issues you want to address,” David Cutler, MD and family medicine physician at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California, advises.
While asking about unexpected symptoms can lead to costly follow-ups, that's no reason to avoid finding the answers you need. “Don’t keep putting things off,” Arthur advises. “It can be scary to address worrisome symptoms, but the sooner you do it the more likely you will have a better outcome.”
Am I up to date on my preventative medical care?
If you’ve been seeing the same doctors for several years, they probably have a record of your preventative care history (mammograms, Pap smears, tetanus vaccinations, etc.). However, many of us change doctors more often than we’d like, whether we move to a new city or our doctor moves out of our local area.
Doctors are very good at being proactive about preventative care, but it’s still a good idea to keep track of any shots, tests, or screenings you receive at previous appointments, and to ask your doctor whether you’re due for any additional routine tests or vaccinations.
If you’re worried about what all of this might cost, remember that the adage about an ounce of prevention being worth a pound of cure applies to your deductible as well.
“Many studies have proven the value of good primary care in reducing health care costs and avoiding complications by addressing problems early,” Cutler reminds us. “So let your physician know what is on your mind at your annual checkup. And write it down, so you don’t forget to ask.”