I want to let you in on a little secret. Most of what takes place in the typical annual physical exam is worthless. I mean it. Worthless. That's because too much time is spent examining bodies and not enough time is spent talking.
In reality, very few things will get picked up on a routine physical exam before you have symptoms. If you listen carefully to your body, you'll notice a new ailment much faster than your doctor.
The best use of your time in the doctor's office is sitting across the desk with your clothes on and having a conversation. Get to know each other; build a relationship. Get comfortable so that when something does go wrong with your health, you'll have the trust you need to make smart decisions.
Here are my top five questions to ask your doctor to make the most of your visit.
|What is a BMI and what is mine?|
BMI stands for "body mass index." It's a measure that tells you how appropriate your weight is for your height, and it's helpful to know whether your BMI is rising, falling or stable. In the same way that we follow growth curves in children to see whether they are on the road to health, your BMI can tell you whether you are at increased risk for many disorders, including diabetes and heart disease.
|Which screening tests do I truly need?|
You might be surprised but the recommendations on screening have changed a lot. "Routine" blood work should no longer be so routine. Cancer-screening recommendations for breast, cervical and prostate cancers have changed. Talk about what is recommended for you and decide what you need.
|Do I need any shots?|
Shots aren't just for kids. There are 14 vaccinations that are recommended for some adults. And while few adults need them all, every adult needs at least one. If you don't ask the question, many doctors will forget to review what you've had and what you need. Why put yourself at risk for an infection -- or cancer -- that can be prevented?
|Is there anything in my family history I should be worried about?|
I'm cheating here. This is really a two-part question. First thing to do is ask your doctor to help you compile a detailed family history. It isn't hard to do, but your doctor should be able to help you know what questions to ask. Then once you have that information, go over it and look for clues that might put your health at risk.
|If I change one lifestyle habit, what should it be?|
This is my way of saying you really should be talking openly and honestly about the important drivers of health. The key to good health lies in healthy behaviors, not in unnecessary invasive testing.
Look to your doctor for advice on how to exercise more, eat better, stop smoking, get some sleep and control your stress levels. If 90 percent of your visit takes place in the examination room with you wearing one of those paper gowns, don't kid yourself into thinking that what you're doing is really good for your health. It's not.