Questions You Should Ask Your Primary Care Physician

Written by: Cameron Rosario
Medically reviewed by: Robert Philibert MD PhD

As time goes by, maintaining and monitoring health becomes increasingly important. Making sure you are fully informed regarding your current overall health and treatments can be difficult in the limited time you have with your primary care physician. Despite this, preparing questions pertaining to your health beforehand can foster a supportive and learning environment between you and your primary care physician.

  1. Learn More About The Specifics of The Diagnosis
    “Can you go into the details of my diagnosis?”

    • Starting by asking a broad question will help you set a foundation of knowledge for you to gain a general understanding of the diagnosis given. However, it is important to not be afraid of extending this knowledge through follow-up questions.  The Cleveland Clinic and the National Institute of Aging have compiled a list of some follow-up questions you may want to consider asking:
      • What is the severity of the condition and the (short and long-term) effects it will have on my everyday life?
      • What was a potential cause of the condition?
      • What symptoms should I look out for? Are there any gender differences concerning these symptoms that should be noted?
      • Could the symptoms be a result of more than one disease/condition?
      • What are the pros and cons of the potential treatments and tests?
  2. Engage In An Open Conversation Regarding the Medication
    “What are the side effects of the drug you are recommending?”

    • Any medication such as prescription drugs, vitamins, and over-the-counter medications (OTC) can have effects on the body. Sometimes the prescribed medication can lead to serious discomfort and mental deterioration in the patient. Some common side effects are:
      • Constipation
      • Skin rash or dermatitis
      • Diarrhea
      • Dizziness
      • Drowsiness
      • Dry mouth
      • Headache
      • Insomnia
      • Nausea
    • These side effects also are influenced by factors including their age, weight, gender, existing diseases, and general overall health. With that in mind, by asking a doctor who is familiar with your medical background, you are educated and can better prepare for the side effects.
  3. Understand Potential Risk Factors
    “What should I be doing to stay healthy and prevent disease?
    “How does my family history affect my risk for this and other conditions?”

    • Knowing about your family history is one thing, but understanding how it affects your risk for diseases is another. Not all conditions that run in families are hereditary.  For example, common colds occur in familial clusters but are not heritable.  Those that are heritable vary in their penetrance.  For example, Huntington’s Chorea is a highly penetrant genetic disease because all who carry the disease causing variant will become ill. However, many other diseases can be caused by genetic variants that are less penetrant.  For example, although the APOE4 allele clearly is a risk variant, not all of those who have the allele will develop Alzheimer’s Disease.  If you are aware of a hereditary disease that may run in your family, it is best to talk to your primary care physician to understand if there are any steps and tests that can be taken.
    • For other diseases such as most types of heart disease, your family history and potential genetic predisposition is only one component of your overall risk. In fact, unhealthy lifestyle choices raise your risk for heart disease more than your genetics. Talk to your primary care physician about prevention steps that can help lower your risk.
    • The best way to be assured that you are healthy is to get tested so talk to your primary care physicians about prevention tests that are appropriate for you.
  4. Discuss Potential Lifestyle Changes
    “Are there any dietary changes that can help optimize my health?”

    • Along with asking about the potential risk factors, ask how you can make the necessary lifestyle changes to address these risk factors. This includes physical activity, moderation of alcohol use, smoking cessation, mental state, and diet/appetite. From there, discuss actionable lifestyle changes that can alleviate some of the side effects and make the recovery process easier.
  5. Identify The Resources That Are Trusted Outside of The Clinic
    “How can I identify online resources that can be trusted for medical information?”

    • The internet, though it is known to be a domain for quick knowledge at your fingertips, may not always provide you with reliable medical information. Asking your doctor about the websites he/she uses and recommends is an important step to avoid becoming misled about your condition, symptoms, and treatments. Additionally, listing down the websites you tend to depend on and confirming the validity with your doctor can help.
  6. Seek Regular Check-Ups
    “When should I schedule a follow up appointment?”

    • Going to the doctor’s clinic should not be limited to only situations when you are sick. Taking time to look into preventative care treatments is especially true for older individuals who are more susceptible to disease.
    • Statistically, women have been found to be 76% more likely to visit their physician in comparison to men. Nonetheless, everyone should take the necessary steps to be proactive when it comes to their health. Men and women should be able to feel empowered to schedule regular checkups to monitor their health and ensure they are catching concerns early.
  7. Make Sure You Are Optimizing Each Visit
    “Is there anything I should work on before the next visit?”

    • Not only is it good to schedule regular visits, but making sure each visit is useful is equally as important. Asking your primary care physician to outline a treatment plan and health goals before the next appointment will help make sure the appropriate preventive measures and problems are being addressed.

 

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