"The more engaged and interested people are in their own health, the better the opportunity for doctor and patient to work together to work on common goals and keep diseases from starting," says Dr. Jonathan Kerr, a family physician in Belleville, Ont.
Here's how you might want to approach your next appointment:
Provide an outline of health questions
It's likely your doctor will want to start your appointment with a chat about what's been going on in your life since your last visit. Dr. Kerr likes to use this conversation to create a rough outline for how the rest of the appointment will go. It's a good idea to provide your list at this point, as it will help your doctor determine if any extra tests might be needed. Often a few symptoms can act as clues to diagnose one ailment.
Try to cover all your concerns. What's hard for doctors is when you've gone through the whole appointment and then a patient mentions something on their way out the door, says Dr. Kerr.
Find a trusted medical website
Sometimes heading online to check your symptoms brings up more questions than answers. Dr. Kerr doesn't mind that his patients do a little side research, but he does encourage them to consult trusted sites (some of which he lists on his website). Ask your doctor what sites he or she recommends for reliable information. And always consult your doctor before taking any advice from the Internet.
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Ask about your lifestyle habits
This is a perfect time to talk about weight issues or other unhealthy changes you'd like to work at rectifying over the coming year, such as quitting smoking. Unsure how to bring your cholesterol down? Don't know where to start when it comes to exercising? Ask your doctor to help you work out a plan.
Other questions might include:
• What does BMI mean?
• Am I at risk of developing diabetes based on my current weight?
• Where should I get nutrition advice?
• How do I create a workout plan that's feasible and not intimidating?
Ask your doctor to clarify
As your doctor goes through the standard checkup, ask questions if you don't understand your results. "A lot of us in the healthcare field, we throw numbers around," says Dr. Kerr. "If you're unsure, always ask."
For example, blood pressure numbers sound like you’re preparing to do long division. Ask your doctor for a clear explanation of what's normal and how you can change your habits if your blood pressure is too high.
"Even when I review blood work with patients, I go through it line by line,” says Dr. Kerr. "Patients really enjoy that."
Other questions might include:
• What do my blood pressure numbers mean?
• What causes high blood pressure?
• What blood pressure results should I aim for?
Family history and screening
If there are any illnesses in your family that you have not disclosed to your doctor, your physical is a good time to bring them up so that they can become a part of your files. You might have also read about certain screening tests. This is a good opportunity to ask if you are eligible to take them.
Questions might include:
• At what age should I get a mammogram?
• How do I check my own breasts for lumps? Should I do this regularly?
• Should I be getting a regular Pap?
Ask about your medications
Dr. Kerr encourages his patients to bring a list of all their medications and supplements to an appointment, especially if he hasn't prescribed them all. You may be seeing specialists for a condition, for example, or have visited a walk-in clinic. If you are taking a variety of pills each day, it's important to know what they all do and to make sure they all work well together. This is a good time to ask questions about what you're taking.
Now more than ever, patients are taking a more active interest in their health. Don't be afraid to ask your doctor questions. "Research studies have shown having a relationship with your family doctor over the years does improve health outcomes," says Dr. Kerr.
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