Ask around and you’ll find that both your doctor and your insurance company want you to get your annual health screenings and checkup. These visits can help catch potential issues earlier, making them a great way to improve health and avoid preventable health care costs. In fact, these visits are so important that an annual checkup is a part of the “essential health benefits” covered at no cost to you under the Affordable Care Act.
Still, just because a benefit is available doesn’t mean we all get full value out of it, and an annual trip to the doctor is no exception.
How many times have you forgotten about that one question until you’re in your car on the way home? What about the times you felt too embarrassed to bring something up? If we’re honest with ourselves, we’ve likely all done these things – no matter whether we’re the CEO or newest hire at our company.
To find out if there is a “cure” for this all-too-common patient forgetfulness, I asked one of the best doctors I know, Dr. Michael Jaeger, for some tips.
Dr. Jaeger is Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield’s medical director and an experienced family physician. In other words, he’s the guy all of us at Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield go to with our once-forgotten questions and concerns. Here are his top tips for making the most of your time at the doctor’s office.
1) Build a partnership with your doctor and his or her office
Getting an annual checkup doesn’t just give you peace of mind, it also helps your doctor get to know you and develop baseline measurements of your health. An important part of this is opening the lines of communication between you and your doctor.
“Patients need to be their own best advocates,” Dr. Jaeger said. “Ask questions. Nothing is too minor or too gross. We’ve heard it all and holding back will only result in you worrying needlessly or missing something that could have been caught early.”
2) Preparation is everything
Just like in sports, it is important to have a “game plan” going into your doctor visit. A lot goes on during your appointment, so it is easy to forget to ask a question or not remember something your doctor said.
“It’s always a good idea to write down your questions in advance. That way, when the doctor comes in the room, all of your questions will be on that notepad and you won’t have to worry about forgetting anything,” said Dr. Jaeger. “You should then use this same notepad to write down any instructions or notes your doctor gives you. Writing things down is much easier than trying to remember everything before, during and after your appointment.”
Prior to your visit, Dr. Jaeger also recommends writing down a list of medications and medical tests you might have had, as well as whether you have traveled outside the country. Having this information at your fingertips will help the medical professionals get to know you so they can customize their care to your personal situation. Older patients, as well as those with multiple chronic health conditions, are encouraged to consider bringing someone with them to the appointment to serve as a second set of eyes and ears.
3) Develop a patient health summary
Dr. Jaeger recommends patients keep and maintain a “patient health summary.” This should include a list of primary and secondary emergency contacts, a health care proxy (if you have one), active medical conditions, surgeries (with dates, if possible), active medication list (including routine over the counter supplements and vitamins) and a family health history.
Patients should review and update this health summary regularly and discuss it with their doctor and family members.
“Health care is complicated. Having your health information in one place and discussing your health care wishes with your family members before an accident or illness occurs is invaluable.”
If you don’t know where to start, your doctor’s office may be able to provide you with a printed health summary from your existing medical records.
4) Play an active role in your own health
In addition to keeping information current and establishing a relationship with your doctor, it’s important to follow the treatment recommendations you are given.
“Doctors and nurses do the screenings and prescribe treatments, but it’s the patient who is responsible for compliance and prevention,” said Dr. Jaeger. “You need to take all medications as directed, comply with the recommended course of treatment, and make necessary lifestyle changes to see the best results.”
Still, Dr. Jaeger admits that you cannot plan for everything.
“Following these tips will help you get the most out of each and every visit,” said Dr. Jaeger. “However, if you think of something after your visit or have concerns about your symptoms, never hesitate to call your primary care doctor’s office.”
Dr. Jaeger’s Do and Don’ts checklist for annual checkups:
- DO arrive on time or early in case you need to update your paperwork
- DO call ahead if you will be late – sometimes offices can adjust schedules
- DO present your questions at the start of your appointment
- DO conduct online research of health sites, but ask your provider which sites he/she would recommend
- DON’T withhold questions
- DON’T be embarrassed by asking your questions
- DON’T “no show” for your appointment, as that slot could be needed by another patient.