Doctor visits are an important part of staying healthy. Seeing your physician for regular checkups isn’t exactly anyone’s idea of fun, but it gives you the opportunity to take control of your own health by working with a medical professional who knows your history and can make recommendations tailored to your needs and lifestyle. Make sure you’re maximizing your one-on-one time by asking your doctor these questions – and don’t be afraid to take notes!
- How do I stack up to other patients my age? Asking about the expected ranges in weight, blood pressure, and other vital signs can help provide a benchmark for your health. This shouldn’t be the only tool you use to gauge how you’re doing (the American average might not always be the ideal or healthiest average), but it gives you a place to start when trying to understand your medical status and what you should be striving for.
- What does that mean? Asking questions is great, but you need to fully understand the answers to ensure you’re following your doctor’s instructions correctly. Clarify any terms you’re unfamiliar with, like “arrhythmia” or “LDL cholesterol,” and be sure you understand any instructions that can be open to multiple interpretations. For example, does taking a medication with food mean before, during, or after you eat?
- How’s my diet? Having an open and honest conversation with your doctor about your dietary habits will help him or her make personalized recommendations for your health. Ask if you’re on track with your nutritional habits and if there are any foods you should be eating less often (or more!).
- When and how will I learn my test results? If you need tests run, leaving your doctor’s office without a clear expectation of how you’ll be informed of the results can lead to confusion and anxiety. Ask your doctor when he or she expects the results to be available and how you’ll learn the outcome – will the office call you, or will you need to call them? Will you need to come back in for a follow-up appointment to review the results?
- Do I really need an antibiotic for this? Many patients frustrated with a lingering cough or bad flu will expect an antibiotic prescription from their doctor – but if you have a viral infection such as a cold or flu, antibiotics won’t have much of an impact since they’re designed to fight bacteria. Doctors may prescribe antibiotics anyway, simply to ease a patient’s worries, but when used unnecessarily they can lead to gut problems and create antibiotic-resistant “superbugs.” If your doctor prescribes an antibiotic, double-check: Why is he or she prescribing it? Is it really something you need?
- Is there anything I should avoid? This is especially important if you’re beginning any new treatments or changes to your routine. Ask your doctor if there are any foods, activities, or other medications you should avoid as part of your treatment plan.
- How does this medication work? Understanding the mechanics of your prescribed medications is an important part of knowing your health. Ask your doctor how your medications work and why you’re taking them – this gives your doctor an opportunity to explain the medications’ impact on your body in a way you can understand, and can even help you anticipate or understand any side effects you might experience.
- How can I learn more about my health? Becoming more knowledgeable about your health is a great goal; that said, WebMD is a nightmare for many physicians. The Internet is full of unverified sources of “information” that can confuse or dangerously mislead patients who don’t work in the health care field. Ask your doctor which reputable sources he or she would recommend to learn more about your health.
- Do I need a follow-up visit? Communicate clearly with your doctor to determine if you’ll need to see him or her again for a follow-up, and if so, how soon. Schedule the follow-up visit at the front desk before leaving the office – that way you’re all set for your next appointment and can focus on continuing to strive to hit your health goals in the meantime.
- What’s the plan? Before leaving your doctor’s office, make sure you’ve worked together to come up with reasonable, measurable steps to improve your health. Whether your goal is to lose weight, lower your cholesterol or get more sleep, defined action items will help you work towards a healthier life.
The old adage says, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away,” but in truth, staying healthy is a bit more complicated than that. By asking your doctor these questions as part of an open, honest conversation, you can learn more about what you should or shouldn’t be doing to keep yourself as healthy as you can. It’s a doctor’s job to help, and they’ll appreciate the opportunity to work with you as their patient to keep your health in the best shape possible!
Stephen Hoelle, Assisting Hands Home Care’s director of nursing, is always available to clients for questions and concerns. He can be reached at 732-272-0222.