Five Tips to Get the Most Out of Your Annual Physical
The truth is if you were to compile a list of the most important standing appointments you make each year, your annual physical should be right at the top. An annual exam provides a special opportunity to develop a wellness plan with your primary care physician—one where your current health status can be aligned with your specific health goals for the coming year.
The key to a successful annual physical: preparation. Good preparation will help ensure that you get your most-pressing questions answered and will also go a long way to alleviate any anxiety you may be feeling about the appointment.
“Many adults think a yearly checkup isn’t necessary if they consider themselves to be in good health,” said Khalil Alleyne, MD, primary care physician at South Shore Medical Center. “But an annual visit is important to get ahead of any issues early.
Seeing your doctor every year for an update on your vitals— including weight, height, blood sugar levels, blood pressure and cholesterol—is one of the best ways to stay on top of your overall health.
In today’s fast-paced health care environment, the average patient visit is only about 15 minutes. The following tips will help you make the best use of your appointment time and will provide a unique opportunity to find out how you can best stay well:
- Be punctual. Arrive 15-20 minutes early for your appointment. Doing so will not only give you time to check in before your appointment, but also gives you a little time to relax. After all, it’s natural to be anxious when visiting a doctor. Arriving early allows you time to settle in, take some deep breaths and help you remember that your doctor is on your wellness team.
- Organize your medical history. Typically, you are asked to fill out an updated medical history form before your exam. Plan ahead by reviewing your own medical history and that of your family’s prior to your visit. Some important family medical history to share includes cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and any other disease or condition that may run in your family. If you’re seeing a new physician, make sure to have your previous primary care physician office send over your medical records well in advance of your visit. “Knowing what has already been done in your care is invaluable for planning what you’ll need in the future,” said Dr. Alleyne. “Though we glean additional information from your physical exam and any tests that may be necessary, a detailed medical history provides valuable guidance to any potential health issues.”
- Know your medications. Although you may recognize your pill as "that little yellow pill,” there are probably hundreds of little yellow pills, for a hundred different health issues. It is important to not only have the name of the medication, but the dosage as well. This helps your physician avoid potential drug interactions. If the list seems too long and complicated, the best thing to do is to bring your medications—prescription, non-prescription, vitamins, herbs, minerals—all in their original containers to your appointment. This way your doctor understands the medication dosage, frequency and your need for possible refills. If you take medications regularly, consider keeping an updated card in your wallet or purse with the names of the drugs, dosage and frequency.
- Bring a notebook and take notes. Writing down your questions in advance helps you prioritize them so you’ll know what to ask first. Use this same notebook to make notes of your doctor’s answers and recommendations during the appointment. Don’t rely on memory alone. There’s nothing worse than having a mental list of important questions to ask and walking away realizing you’ve forgotten some or all of them. “I always remind patients that our time at your physical is short, so don’t be upset if some issues don’t get addressed at this one appointment. My hope is, we’ll be working together for years,” Dr. Alleyne said.
- Be honest. You are completely safe to talk about any and all issues with your physician and doing so is crucial to your health. Being dishonest or leaving out details will only hinder your path to wellness. Even if a topic seems really personal, or embarrassing, know you are not alone. Your doctor has likely heard and seen everything, so push yourself to talk about things that may be uncomfortable to discuss. Once you do, it’s usually the freeing moment where you can begin to get help. Some common topics that people avoid include urinary incontinence, sexual dysfunction and domestic violence.
Above all, realize that to live a healthy life, you’ve got to get involved in the process of staying well. Treat your annual exam as one of the most important appointment you will have this year. Use this as an opportunity to pave the way to optimal health and wellness. And if you felt there wasn’t enough time to discuss a certain issue, schedule a follow-up appointment to have a more substantial discussion exclusively on that subject.