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Check-up Check-in: How to Make the Most of Your Next Check Up

Everyone is familiar with the concept of a periodic medical checkup — some sort of scheduled doctor’s visit to check your blood pressure,  weight and other physical benchmarks. But many of us are content to simply make the appointment and rarely take time to think about what you need to get out of your doctor visit to leave feeling good. To help you be more proactive, we asked Dr. Sheila Sudhakar, Sr. Medical Director at Cigna Medical Group to share tips for maximizing your next visit.

When getting a checkup, should you just brief your doctor on family history or are there other things you should share right off the bat? 

There is a lot of information that doctors find helpful that will ensure patients get thorough treatment.  This includes:

  • Any history of any medical issues – from childhood through adulthood – for example asthma, heart trouble, any hospitalizations, any allergies to any meds, surgeries
  • Any family history of certain conditions – heart problems, lung disease, diabetes, cancers, early deaths, genetic disorders
  • Any history of smoking, alcohol, drug use, etc.

Having this information helps keep the doctors informed so we can be proactive about your health and help prevent any health issues or complications.  It helps ensure that patients get appropriately screened for any potential health risks and patients can be counseled accordingly.

Is once a year really enough or should we be getting multiple checkups a year? 

It depends on your health.  If you are healthy, on no medications, and are hardly ever sick, are not overweight, and have no family history of any medical issues, don’t smoke, drink, etc, once a year at a minimum is adequate.  However, if you are on medication or have certain medical conditions and increase your risks for  heart disease, you should see your doctor every 3-6 months depending on the severity of the conditions.

In addition to visiting a primary care physician are there other doctors we should include in our annual checkup list?

In addition to seeing your primary care physician yearly, you should also see a dentist and have your eyes checked yearly.  For females, you should have a female exam done yearly as well.  If this is not done by your PCP, then it should be done by an Ob/gyn.

Are there any questions you should always ask your doctor?

The most important question is to ensure you understand any instructions given by your physician.  For example, “Just to make sure I understand, can I repeat what  your instructions are so we know I understand what I’m supposed to do?”

  • What are next steps/when should I follow up with you?
  • Ask any clarifying questions on things you don’t understand such as, “What is this medication for?  How will it help me?  Are there any side effects?” etc.

If you haven’t seen a doctor in over a year, do you need additional tests, screenings? Basically how do you get back on track? 

Your doctor will know what you need based on your medical history, your family history, your age and sex, and any other pertinent information.  They will help you get up to date with your preventive care.  Doctors are more than willing to help you get back on track and up-to-date with your care.  Let them know how long it has been since you had a physical or were even seen by a doctor and what you’ve had done in the past and they’ll be able to pick up where you left off.