It's time for a check-up with your primary care doctor
When was the last time you had a check-up with your primary care doctor?
If you’re like most people, you’ve probably put off preventive and wellness care due to COVID-19. It wouldn’t be surprising if it’s been a couple of years since you last had a check-up.
Because of the pandemic, everyone has been hyper-focused on staying healthy by avoiding a COVID-19 infection. Now that the vaccine is available to everyone and we’re able to begin resuming more normal activities, it’s time to get back to focusing on the fundamentals of your health.
One of the best ways you can get healthy and stay healthy is by scheduling an appointment with your primary care doctor.
Why you need a check-up with your primary care doctor
Simply put, wellness check-ups help you to stay well. If you’re used to only going to the doctor when you’re sick, it may seem counterintuitive to schedule an appointment when you’re well. When you come to the doctor for an urgent care visit, your doctor is focused on treating the acute issue or illness that brought you in. But when you visit your primary care doctor at a check-up, your doctor will create a targeted, holistic plan to keep you living a healthy life.
Because you work with the same primary care doctor over time, your doctor can monitor changes in your health that you may not be able to see or notice yourself. Whether you just seem more down than usual, you’ve lost or gained a few pounds, or your blood pressure has started to creep up a bit, your primary care doctor can keep tabs on vital health indicators. Even if you’re not acutely ill, there’s a good chance that you’re not feeling quite like yourself in the aftermath of the pandemic.
Your primary care doctor provides personalized care that meets your specific needs. You and your doctor can take into account family history, personal goals, and data to create a targeted wellness plan that fits your lifestyle and your health concerns. In this way, your primary care doctor serves as a health coach.
Regular, annual check-ups with your primary care doctor also help you build a relationship with your doctor. When your doctor knows you well, they’re able to provide more responsive and individualized care. When you do get sick, your doctor is there for you to help you get well or connect you with the specialists you might need.
If you don’t have a relationship with a primary care doctor, now is the perfect time to establish care with a doctor near you.
What to expect from a check-up with your primary care doctor
If it’s been a while since you had your last check-up, you may feel a little nervous about scheduling that appointment. You’ll find that, while an urgent care and primary care visit have many similarities, the goal of an urgent care visit is usually to fix a problem while the goal of a primary care visit is to prevent health issues while looking at all of your body systems.
All wellness visits will follow the same general form, so you can always know what to expect. Like every other time you visit the doctor, a nurse or medical assistant will take your vital signs. These vital signs include your weight, blood pressure, heart rate, and temperature. If you have a history of pulmonary conditions, your doctor may also check your oxygen saturation.
While this data may seem basic, these vital signs provide valuable information to your doctor. Unexplained weight loss or weight gain can indicate underlying problems that may need to be addressed during your visit. Hypertension (high blood pressure) rarely causes any symptoms and can be difficult to detect without the blood pressure cuff, but can be as risky to your health as COVID-19. An elevated temperature can indicate an underlying infection. All of this data provides clues to your doctor about your overall health.
Talk with your doctor
After taking your vitals, a nurse will bring you to your exam room. Once the doctor comes in, the first thing you’ll do is talk. Your doctor can tell a lot about your health just by observing you and talking with you. You don’t need to be intimidated about talking with your primary care doctor.
Your primary care doctor will want to know how you’re currently feeling. Communicate to your doctor anything that has changed in your general health, including:
- Aches or pains
- Life changes, including changes to your job, family, or living situation
- Weight gain or weight loss
- Bathroom issues
- Mental health concerns
- Any other questions or concerns you may have
You may find it helpful to jot down a few notes about how you’ve been feeling before you come in for your check-up, especially if you tend to get nervous in the doctor’s office. And be sure to make a list of any questions you want to have answered so you can address those with your doctor.
Your primary care doctor will also want to get updates on any current conditions you may have.
- How are you feeling?
- Has your condition changed since you last saw your doctor? Are symptoms improving or worsening? Do you notice any other changes in your medical condition?
- How do you feel when you take your medication? Are you experiencing any side effects?
- Have you seen any other specialists for this condition since you last saw your doctor?
By clearly describing changes in any of your current conditions, your primary care doctor can know how best to help you feel better and manage your conditions. And by communicating honestly with your doctor, you’re empowered to direct the care you receive.
Once you’ve had a chance to talk with your doctor, your primary care doctor will perform a physical exam. This is everything you’d expect from a physical exam; your doctor will conduct a brief exam of your body systems. Expect your doctor to check:
- Eyes, ears, nose, and throat (say “ah!”)
- Lymph nodes
- Pulse and heartbeat
Believe it or not, these routine examinations provide a great deal of information to your doctor. Your doctor is looking for anything that seems abnormal or different from your baseline, especially in the context of any changes or concerns you have about your health.
While your primary care doctor isn’t out to subject you to unnecessary discomfort, some lab work may be necessary at your check-up. Laboratory tests are one of the best ways to monitor for changes in your health that can’t easily be seen. Lab work will also help your doctor to catch issues early, before they become problematic. Your doctor will decide which laboratory tests you need based on your age, gender, health history, and family history.
Your primary care doctor may order one or more of these common labs at your check-up:
- Complete blood count
- Complex metabolic panel
- Cholesterol and lipid panel
- Other labs that are pertinent to your health concerns or chronic conditions
These lab results usually don’t come in immediately, so your doctor will call you to follow up if you have any abnormal results.
Vaccines and preventive screenings
Right now, everyone is thinking about vaccines because the vaccines for COVID-19 are now available to everyone over the age of 16. But there are other vaccines you may need to keep you healthy. Your primary care doctor can let you know if there are any other vaccines you need, and these can usually be administered while you’re there for your appointment.
Your doctor may also recommend other preventive screenings or refer you to a follow-up visit with a specialist. Your primary care doctor can coordinate your care across multiple subspecialties to ensure that you’re getting the right care at the right time.
Before you leave your appointment, make sure all of your questions have been answered and you have a clear understanding of any next steps you need to take for better health. But if you do forget to ask a question, or if you get home and find that you’re confused about one of your doctor’s recommendations, your primary care doctor is only a phone call or an email away. If your primary care doctor is at MedHelp, you can also schedule a telehealth appointment or utilize our patient portal to communicate with your doctor.
Your annual check-up isn’t just about monitoring your labs and changes in health. It’s a way to help you make a plan for better health and educate you for when you do have health problems.
If it’s been a while since you last made an appointment with your primary care doctor, now is the perfect time to put an appointment on your calendar. And if you don’t have a primary care doctor, we can help you find a doctor that fits your schedule and meets your needs. Contact us to schedule an appointment today.