If you can’t quite remember the last time you made it to the office for your annual physical, you’re missing a huge opportunity to take your health into your own hands. Seeing your primary care provider (PCP) at least once a year should really be non-negotiable. Here are some tips on how to get the most out of your annual physical.
Bring as much of your health history as possible. This includes immunization records, lab work, screening test results, details of hospital visits, etc. When was your last tetanus shot? When was your last mammogram? Not having that kind of information prevents the providers from making good decisions.
Keep in mind that your medical history also includes that of your family, given the genetic component to so many health issues. Tell your provider if certain conditions run in your family, like high blood pressure, diabetes, alcoholism, any cancers.
You probably already know you should tell your provider about what prescription drugs you’re on. Keep a list handy with the names and dosages, or just bring the bottles themselves. Don’t leave out your birth control, which people often forget.
List any over-the-counter (OTC) meds you use, like the Benadryl you turn to when you can’t sleep or the ibuprofen you use to tackle period cramps.
Don’t forget about supplements, too. You might not think of things like herbs, vitamins, and minerals as medications, but they could potentially interact with something your pcp prescribes.
Think about what you want to get out of your annual physical beforehand. Communicate those priorities before the visit or at least at the start of the visit. This ensures your issues don’t get pushed back to the next visit.
Keep a running list of questions that pop into your head in the weeks leading up to your annual physical. This helps ensure you don’t forget to mention things you’ve been wondering about. Nothing is too small or silly. No one should ever be afraid to ask their provider anything. Who else are you supposed to ask?
Those annual physical questions about how often you drink, smoke, or have unprotected sex, are not intended to intrude on your personal life. They’re just another part of the full picture your PCP needs to provide you with the best care possible. Don’t be afraid to mention if you smoke weed, if once in a while you use cocaine, if you drink a bottle of wine some weekend.
Everyone has a fear of stigma or judgement, but you’re doing yourself a disservice by not being honest with your provider. A good provider is not going to treat you any differently. They’re just trying to be your partner to help you optimize your health.
Finding the right PCP for you is a trial-and-error process. A lot of it comes down to personal preference. Do you prefer a man or a woman? Do you prefer somebody older than you or close in age? Above all, your pcp should give you the attention you want and make you feel comfortable.
If you’re looking for a new PCP, the best way to start your search process is by asking friends for recommendations. Always research the provider’s background and patient reviews. Many offices will even allow you to do a free meet and greet so you can get a feel for each other.