You want your routine annual visit to the doctor’s office to be about your agenda, the physical examination, problem solving and goal setting. You don’t want to spend those valuable minutes reviewing items that could be handled prior to the visit like medication refills, family history, screening tests or vaccinations. Your relationship with your provider should be collaborative so take charge of the conversation to get the most out of that one-on-one time. Consider using the following three questions as a guide to structure your appointment.
1. Is this pain/discomfort/sensation I’m experiencing normal?
Your appointment should focus on your agenda, not necessarily the clinician’s. It is an opportunity to discuss sensitive issues or concerns you may have that do not rise to the level of scheduling an acute visit. Common examples are chronic disease management, maintaining health, pain, anxiety, depression or sleep issues.
It can be difficult for some people to articulate these things so I encourage my patients to come to their appointment with a brief and prioritized list. It is best to share this list at the start of the visit so that your provider knows what is on your mind, and we can better manage the time we have together.
I recommend you take advantage of the pre-visit planning process offered by your health network. For example, complete any labs or health maintenance screenings ahead of time and familiarize yourself with electronic tools that help your care team get to know you. This allows for plenty of time during the visit for meaningful conversation with your provider.
2. How does my lifestyle impact my health overall?
A primary care provider’s job is about more than helping you get better when you’re sick, it is about keeping you healthy too. I talk to all of my patients about lifestyle — diet, exercise, sleep patterns and stress levels are some of the main topics. Ask your provider about what you can do to maintain health in these areas. General questions about ways to stay healthy often lead to conversations about how lifestyle can impact diseases and chronic conditions. Never underestimate the power of lifestyle changes impacting overall health.
3. What can I work on for our next visit?
The responses to this question will be very different depending on your age and stage in life. Pediatric visits are all about development and maintaining health, making sure the patient is growing and thriving. As for adolescents and young adults, we usually only see them when they have an acute care need. The older you get, the more your visit is about chronic disease prevention or management. This is where setting goals becomes very important.
Medicine should not be transactional — no one likes being told what to do. We know that the odds of patients adhering to their care plan greatly increase when they partner with their care team to formulate that plan. I love it when my patients take the initiative and ask what things they can do for the next six months to improve their health. We can have a very collaborative conversation and strategize together. For some people, it may be losing weight, for others, it is simply about compliance with medication. The more open-minded and realistic you are, the easier it will be to achieve your health goals.
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Those were excellent questions