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Ace your annual check up

How to get the most out of your annual primary care visit

Whether you love it, hate it, put it off as long as you can, or look forward to it as your annual pilgrimage to the Mecca of wellness, the annual check up is a staple of primary care. It’s also your best opportunity to address your overall health condition and take steps toward a healthier lifestyle. Maybe best of all, an annual primary care visit is covered by almost every insurance plan, a virtual inalienable right for the insured. So, how can we make the most of this once-a-year opportunity?

Getting the most out of your annual primary care visit means being prepared to ask questions and get answers to help you manage your health. It’s your chance to talk to your primary care physician or PCP about your lifestyle, your diet, your activity levels, your family’s health, anything that impacts your health and well being.

Hopefully, it’s a “well visit,” an appointment for health maintenance rather than to treat a specific injury or illness. But often patients use their annual physical as a chance to address minor conditions or symptoms that may have manifested since their last doctor visit. Either way, your preparedness will influence the effectiveness of your appointment in improving your health.

Eight things you can do before, during and after your appointment:
  • Get prepared: Make notes about any unusual conditions or symptoms you’ve experienced since your last visit, especially recurring or bothersome symptoms. Gather information about recent tests, vaccinations or lab work you’ve had done in the last few years to help your doctor assess your health and to avoid unnecessary tests and procedures. Review your family’s medical histories, especially chronic conditions you share with parents or siblings.
  • Write down questions: Make a list of the topics you want to cover in your appointment, and write questions carefully so you get the information you need and don’t forget to cover important points. This will help avoid confusion after your appointment or the frustration of overlooking an important concern.
  • Tell them why you’re here: Explain to your physician why you made the appointment, what you expect from the visit and review your list of concerns. Address your most urgent health matters first. Your doctor will explore your issues and prioritize the appointment.
  • Check your vitals: Your nurse or physician assistant will record your weight, your pulse and blood pressure to start almost any appointment. Ask about the results and let the doctor know if the numbers seem unusual. Changes in your vital statistics can indicate underlying health issues and there’s no better time to discuss them than now.
  • Bring your prescription medicines: Review your current medications with your doctor (including over-the-counter medications and dietary supplements). Request prescription renewals as needed to avoid last-minute refills and unnecessary return visits.
  • Get a flu shot: Request your annual influenza immunization during your visit (if it’s appropriate), and ask about other recurring vaccinations such as the tetanus booster (good for 10 years).
  • Tune in to preventive screenings: Ask your doctor about your need for preventive screenings. Based on your age and risk factors, you may be instructed to have exams such as diabetes testing, cancer screenings, colonoscopy, mammograms and other tests that help diagnose conditions at an early stage when they can be treated more easily.
  • Be clear on your follow-up: Make sure you understand your doctor’s recommendations and what’s expected of you after you leave the appointment. You may be required to have blood work for lab tests, imaging or appointments with other specialists. Get written orders or instructions for any necessary next steps and be sure you know what you need to do.
Until next time: Follow your doctor’s advice

Your primary care physician has your best interest in mind, so do what the doctor says. Sticking to their prescribed treatment plans will help you manage health conditions and avoid further complications. Paying attention to your diet and exercise should result in a healthier you at your next annual check up.

What are you waiting for?

Take your health in your own hands, and make an appointment. If you haven’t seen your primary care doctor in the last 12 months, now is the time to schedule a check up. If you don’t have a primary care doctor, you can find one here.

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