We get it; your annual wellness exam is an appointment you’re eager to rush through. Even so, it is an important step in prevention and early detection of cancer and a time with your doctor that you should take advantage of. Here are seven tips to ensure you’re advocating for your health — and three questions every woman should ask her healthcare provider.
Prior to your visit
1) Prepare a list of questions. It’s common to freeze up, forget, or speed through your appointment once you’re in that cold paper gown. Before your visit, write down all questions, health-related concerns, or anything else you want to address during your appointment. We recommend using your phone’s Notes app so you don’t forget the list at home.
2) Fill out your family medical history. This will bring to light invaluable information about your potential health risks. Our Family Health History Worksheet is a simple and effective tool by which to accomplish this. Bring a copy to share with your doctor.
3) Bring a health advocate. The buddy system never gets old. If you don’t feel confident advocating for your health or asking the awkward questions, bring your most trusted and chatty friend/partner/sister to help advocate for your health. You aren’t in this alone.
At the beginning of the appointment
4) Share your personal and family medical history as it relates to your appointment. This information may be in your chart, but doctors are busy so it’s a good opportunity to remind them of your unique and personal health history.
5) Tell them you are interested in learning about the clinical breast exam and you would like them to help you map your breast tissue and explain what they are doing during the clinical exam.
At the end of your appointment
6) If you are still worried about something at the end of your appointment, speak up and relay your concerns, and you want to leave the appointment with a plan for next steps.
7) If a follow-up appointment or appointment with a specialist is needed, schedule it while you are still at your appointment (the doc/nurse/front desk staff can assist you). You can always reschedule later if necessary.
Not sure which questions to ask?
To help you get started, here are three every woman should be asking her doctor (even if you feel perfectly healthy):
- Given my medical history, do I have a higher than normal risk for certain illnesses?
- Given my age, personal medical history, and family medical history, what screenings should I have?
- How can I improve/maintain my health? Ask for advice on: Maintaining/reaching a healthy weight; Eating a balanced diet; Incorporating physical activity into a busy lifestyle or picking up an exercise program; Healthy lifestyle choices (like help with quitting smoking and limiting alcohol)
And remember, your healthcare provider works for you. Practice shared decision-making with your PCP to ensure your voice is heard and needs are taken care of. Your healthcare provider is looking out for your best interest, health, and well-being, and together you two can create a great team to make sure that you are living your healthiest life!