Every year, there are annual reminders we must acknowledge -- gentle nudges to change the batteries in your smoke detectors when the time changes or get your finances and tax forms in order before April 15. Here's one from me: Don't forget your annual physical. As a family medicine practitioner, I treat patients at LVMC: Physician Services from infancy to the elder years.
The National Institutes of Health recently sent out an important reminder about seeing a physician regularly in order to keep an eye on your health and to spot potential problems. The notice included information that I may take for granted as a physician - tips for patients with questions to ask when visiting a doctor's office. In this blog, I'll go through the NIH tips for you, as a way to help you prepare.
Doctors expect questions - and the old adage that you can never ask a stupid question is still true. Don't wait for your doctor to bring up a specific topic. We may not know what's on your mind, or if you have questions about health concerns.
If you don't know the meaning of a word your doctor is using, just ask. Do you know what your physician means when they say hypertension or DASH diet? What about words like "aneurysm" or abbreviations like DVT (Deep Vein Thrombosis)?
If your doctor gives you instructions about a medication, make sure you understand exactly how to manage the dosages - when to take the prescription, and whether you should take it with food, before a meal or after a meal.
Sometimes, your annual physical can involve more than a simple blood test. There may be a need for other procedures, such as glaucoma tests, screenings, and mammograms.
Before you have a medical test, be sure to ask your physician to explain why it is important, and what it will indicate. The NIH recommends you ask what kind of things you need to do to prepare for the test. For example, you may need to have an empty stomach, or you may have to provide a urine sample. Ask how you will be notified of the test results and how long they will take to come in. You should also ask about dangers or side effects. And one of the most important questions, the NIH suggest, is to ask, "What will we know after the test?"
When the results are ready, make sure the doctor tells you what they are and explains what they mean. If a specialist conducts your test, you should ask for the results to be relayed to your primary care physician, if that isn't done automatically.
There is also plenty of information online about tests, but be aware of the resources you use to do research. The National Library of Medicine's "MedlinePlus" (medlineplus.gov) website contains links that could be useful. There are topics such as coping with test pain, discomfort, and anxiety; home use tests; test preparation; collecting samples and tips on blood testing, for example.
You may be at the doctor's office to discuss a diagnosis, and you can be prepared to discuss your symptoms with the physician. If you have a condition or disease, you should ask the doctor to tell you the name of the condition and why he or she thinks you have it. Ask how it may affect you and how long it might last.
Some medical problems never go away completely. They can't be cured, but they can be treated or managed. The NIH suggests you also ask what may have caused the condition and whether it could be permanent. You can ask about treatment or management of the medical issue, and get an idea of long-term effects on your life.
And as with all matters relating to your healthcare, ask your physician where you can find more information about your condition or disease. Take along a notepad and pen to any medical appointment where you expect to be hearing or learning new things about your healthcare. If you're not comfortable writing while the doctor is speaking, stop in the waiting room after your appointment and make notes.
Remember, you must be an active participant in the management of your healthcare - and that means making sure you have an annual exam.