1. Pick two or three top goals for your visit
Patients often come to my office with a list of 30 things they want to talk about, but it's just not realistic to cover everything under the sun in one visit. And I'm guilty, too: I may want to cram in every vaccination, blood test and pearl of dietary advice I can, while my patient has something else entirely on her mind. Making a list in advance is always helpful, but be sure to prioritize. You might even make clear at the beginning of the visit: "There are two things I want to make sure we talk about today."
On the flip side, do allow time for the doctor to address her top concerns. You can even ask her what they are. She might have something surprising to discusslike a concerning blood test result, or a new medical recommendation for women your agethat's worth listening to.
2. Don't blow off yearly checkups
You might have read about the recent study showing that physicals don't yield head-over-heels benefitspatients who dutifully get them do not seem to be healthier or live longer. (They do, however, come out with more diagnoses and more possibly harmful testssee No. 3.) Still, I feel that touching base in an annual or biennial visit is probably the most important way that doctors can keep tabs on how you are doing. When your physician takes a complete medical history, this is her chance to pick up subtle clues about impending illnesslike changes in your sleep, energy levels or bowel habitseven if you may feel perfectly well.
The relationship you build with your doctor through repeated visits becomes especially helpful if and when illness does arrive. Carmen Martinez (not her real name) has been my patient for more than 15 years. One day, she came to my office saying she felt slower than usual. She answered "no" to the standard questions about chest pain and shortness of breath. Her physical exam wasn't much different from what it normally was. But she was insistent about the slowness.
This wasn't like the Ms. Martinez that I knew. I decided to order a chest X-rayand it turned out that she was in the early stages of a heart condition that needed immediate attention. Her presentation hadn't fit the textbook, but I think we were able to catch this disease because we knew each other: She knew me well enough to press a symptom that might seem inconsequential, and I knew her well enough to sense that something was clearly off.