When you make your first appointment with a new primary care provider, there needs to be a sort of "onboarding" experience. Your new doctor has limited information about you, and it's up to you to fill in the gaps. Here are seven topics to cover when talking to your doctor.
1. Your Relevant Medical Information
How much background information your doctor has depends on the quality and quantity of your medical records. You'll want to have any records from previous doctors sent to the new office. However, if this is your first visit in a long time or if establishing a relationship with a primary care provider is new for you, you'll need to fill in more of the gaps. Note your basic health history: major illnesses, chronic conditions, surgeries, childbirth, etc.
2. Your Family Medical History
This is another area where it's important to note the highlights. Bring up if you've had parents or siblings with cancer, and whether your parents or grandparents have had a heart attack or stroke, heart disease, diabetes, high cholesterol, or high blood pressure. Mention any other potentially inherited family syndromes.
3. Current Medications
It may be easiest to bring all prescriptions you're currently taking with you, but you should at least write down the type of medication and the dose. Remember to tell your doctor about herbal supplements, vitamins, and birth control methods (including an IUD, patch, or ring) you're using as well. Also, make sure to tell him or her about any allergic reactions you've had to medications.
4. New Symptoms
You likely made an appointment for a reason. Be clear and detailed about any symptoms you're currently experiencing that worry you. The National Institute on Aging encourages you to note any changes to your health, even if they seem small. Are you sleeping less? Do you have a mild ache that doesn't go away? These small things can be a sign of a bigger problem.
5. Cultural/Personal Preferences
There's more to you than your medical records and family history. Let your doctor know of cultural and personal sensitivities. Do you prefer to have a family member with you? Do you need health information translated? Is modesty an issue for you in the office? Feel free to tell your doctor if any aspects of the visit make you uncomfortable.
Do you experience stress about going to the doctor? Do you prefer to get more information in the office or would you rather be pointed to resources you can view as you feel ready? Let your doctor know of personal issues or discomfort you have with seeing a doctor in general.
6. Your Lifestyle
Your hobbies, diet, fitness routine, and number of sexual partners all affect your health. Giving your doctor a quick snapshot of your lifestyle will help them find the right recommendations that fit in with your lifestyle and boost your health. Smoking, alcohol consumption, and drug use all contribute to your health. You may have some things that you're not quite ready to cop to in your first visit, but you'll need to open up in the future so you can have access to every form of care you need.
7. Home/Work Situation
Many personal situations that cause stress or mood changes can also affect other aspects of your health. Your doctor can provide the best help if you tell him or her about struggles at work, family issues, abuse, and food insecurity.
This is a lot to remember when talking to your doctor, so it may be helpful to start a health journal or an online personal health record. You can then print out these records and take them to your next appointment.
Your doctor will likely ask you a lot of questions, and it can be uncomfortable to share personal things. Remember that your doctor is there to help you, and the goal of a primary care provider is to build a strong relationship to help you manage your health over time. You can share more as you feel more comfortable and build trust. The more your doctor knows about you, the more he or she can help.