Your yearly preventive visit is the time to connect with your primary care provider to talk about your overall health and well-being. During this visit, many providers review your complete history, identify risk factors, and conduct a thorough examination. But for a fully comprehensive visit, don’t just answer your primary care provider’s (PCP) questions – ask your own!
These exams only come once a year for most patients, so don’t leave without getting as much clarity as you can. Ask questions to be proactive and ensure that any potential health conditions are caught early, while learning what you can do to remain healthy.
Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan Senior Vice President and Chief Medical Officer Dr. James Grant constructed this list of five questions you should ask before leaving your annual visit. If it helps you stay organized, jot them down on a notepad and bring them to your next exam.
What preventative care screenings or blood tests should I schedule?
Depending on your age and risk factors for specific conditions, you may need to start thinking about scheduling certain screenings. For example, everyone should undergo colon cancer screenings starting at age 45. Those at increased risk of colorectal cancer might need to start screening sooner. The United States Preventive Service Task Force recommends starting breast cancer screening at age 40. For most patients, having a mammogram every other year is adequate, but it is worth discussing the recommended cadence of mammograms with your primary care physician.
Your physician can also discuss recommended blood tests based on your age and risk factors. Not every patient needs blood work completed every year.
Health screenings can detect diseases or chronic conditions in their earliest stages, which is when treatment plans are most successful. If your PCP identifies a concern during one of these screenings, they can talk with you about a care plan to improve or prevent conditions from worsening.
Does my family health history put me at risk for certain conditions?
Not all diseases are tied to genetics. However, you may be at increased risk for some conditions like certain cancers, heart disease, diabetes and Alzheimer’s if someone in your family has had them.
That’s why no matter your age, you should have a conversation with your PCP about family health history. If someone in your family does have a condition, you may need some screenings earlier than the routine timeline. For example, if your parent was diagnosed with colon cancer at age 40, it is recommended you undergo a colonoscopy 10 years before that diagnosis, at age 30. Ask your family questions like these to get a good grasp on family health history:
- Do you have any chronic diseases (heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, etc.)?
- How old were you when you were diagnosed?
- Have you ever been diagnosed with a serious illness such as Alzheimer’s, breast cancer or dementia? When was that?
- How have these illnesses been treated?
- If a family member has passed away, what did they die from and how old were they?
Am I due for any vaccinations?
It’s important to be up to date on your vaccinations. All adults need to stay on top of vaccinations. Some vaccines are recommended on an annual basis like Influenza or COVID-19. Other vaccinations are recommended at a specific cadence or based on a patient’s age and health history.
Adults aged 19-49 will need the HPV (Human Papilloma Virus) and MMR (Measles, Mumps, Rubella) vaccines in addition to influenza, Tdap, and COVID-10 vaccines.
By age 50, the shingles vaccine is recommended. The shingles vaccine is recommended for all adults age 50 and older, and people age 65 and up should receive the pneumonia vaccine to help protect against pneumonia. Check with your physician regarding the recommended vaccinations for you.
What lifestyle changes should I consider to improve my overall health and well-being?
Talk with your PCP about what measures you can take in your everyday life to stay healthy. They may suggest lifestyle changes to improve your overall health and reduce your risk of chronic disease. These recommendations may include proper nutrition and dietary changes, incorporating exercise into your daily routine limiting the use of alcohol, stopping smoking, and getting enough sleep. Talking with your PCP about your lifestyle habits can have a significant impact on your well-being and prevention of chronic disease.
Is what I’m experiencing normal?
Before wrapping up your exam, report any current symptoms, unusual feelings or physical concerns you may have. It’s normal to feel embarrassed depending on how sensitive the issue is, but it’s important to remember that PCPs are trained to provide guidance on most any situation.
Read more from the "5 Things" series:
- 5 Things I'd Never Do for my Skin
- 5 Things I’d Never Do as a Dietitian
- 5 Foods to Eat with Your Mental Health in Mind
Photo credit: BCBSM