It’s a new year, and many of us have set goals and made resolutions regarding our health — to eat better, to exercise more, or to quit an unhealthy habit, for instance. New year, new us! But one often overlooked way to maintain and improve both physical and mental well-being is to establish a relationship with a primary care provider, and then have regular checkups with them. (For many people, a yearly checkup is recommended, but depending on your age and other factors, your provider may recommend a different frequency.)
These routine checkups are vital — they allow your healthcare team to catch diseases early, before they become serious or start to negatively impact your life. And a trusting relationship with a healthcare provider is an invaluable resource as you work toward your health goals.
If it’s been a while since your last checkup, now’s the time to take charge of your health and make an appointment! And to make the most of your appointment, here are important ways to prepare for that routine checkup.
The first time you see a new healthcare provider, they will ask you about your medical history — including past operations, illnesses, and other issues. It can be difficult to remember everything on the spot, so it might be helpful to write out a list or a timeline. If you can, perhaps ask an older family member to refresh your memory about childhood illnesses like chicken pox.
Keep in mind that seemingly small things can be significant! An unusual birthmark that you had removed several years ago or a childhood hospital stay may seem inconsequential now, but these things belong in your medical history. The more information your provider has, the better.
(Learn more about what happens at an annual physical exam.)
Whether it’s a daily vitamin E, an over-the-counter herbal sleep aid, or a prescription medication, your partners in health need to know about it, so they can avoid prescribing something that might negatively interact with it. And as you discuss your health goals, they may have other suggestions for achieving the results you’re after.
(Before adding a vitamin or other supplement to your routine, always talk to your healthcare provider. Learn more about daily supplements and when to consider adding one to your diet.)
What do you typically eat in a day? How many times a week do you exercise, and for how long? How many alcoholic beverages are you drinking per week? How are you sleeping? How are your mood, your libido, and your appetite? Your healthcare provider will want to know the answers to these questions and more. It might be helpful to keep a “health journal” for several days before your appointment, so you have an accurate picture of your daily routine. And remember — a doctor’s office is a judgment-free zone, so do be honest!
(Little fibs are sometimes the polite course of action — but at the doctor’s office, they can be damaging to your health! Learn more about the importance of telling your doctor the unvarnished, whole truth.)
Your provider will also want to know about medical conditions that close relatives have had — especially your parents, siblings, and grandparents. Many medical conditions (such as cancer, diabetes, and heart disease) have a genetic component. If your close family members have a history of a medical condition, your provider may recommend certain screenings and lab tests.
Your healthcare provider should listen to and answer your questions, offer suggestions and recommendations for reaching your health goals, and follow up with you after your appointment — and again, because there can be a lot to cover in a routine checkup, it can be helpful to write down your questions beforehand. (Also, bring a pen and paper to the appointment so you can take notes!)
(Feeling anxious about bringing up a sensitive issue with your healthcare provider? There’s no need — your medical team will not be uncomfortable discussing any issues relating to your physical or mental health. Get tips on how to broach “embarrassing” topics with your doctor.)
Typically, a routine physical does not require fasting or any special preparation, but certain screenings might — check in with your provider’s office a few days before your appointment to see what’s planned for your visit. Also ask what insurance documents you might need to bring with you (you may be able to supply some information over the phone, to save time at the provider’s office).
(Need help navigating insurance and medical expenses? We’re here to help! Learn more about primary care costs.)
Primary care providers who listen, who follow up after your appointments, and who bring compassion to their work every day — that’s the Carbon Health difference. Find a provider near you, via carbonhealth.com or the Carbon Health app, and start making strides toward your health goals!