Tips for Talking Openly With your Primary Care Physician

February 16, 2011

Physician speaking with patient

Having a doctor that is your Primary Care Provider, or PCP, is an important part of living a healthy and happy life. Your PCP is your partner for general health and for sickness and injury. He or she is the doctor with whom you build a relationship and with whom you feel comfortable talking.

Your PCP keeps your medical records, which show your history of care. That allows him or her to have a better picture of you when you're sick. It also helps your doctor guide you in keeping you healthy as you get older. Although your PCP is often a doctor (MD or DO), it may also be a nurse practitioner (NP) or a physician assistant (PA).

Some people carry an emergency information card with important medical information on it. Things like medicine you're taking, any allergies to medicine, and conditions such as diabetes, cancer, or high blood pressure can all be found on a good emergency information card. It's also a good idea to put your PCP's name and phone number on the card, so that in an emergency, your PCP will be notified and help make sure you get the best care.

In any relationship, communication is key – especially with your PCP. You may feel comfortable talking with family or friends, but you might feel nervous or rushed when it comes to talking to your PCP.

Getting ready for your visit before you see your PCP is a great way to calm your nerves. It's important to be open and honest with your PCP so you can get the best care possible. Once you and your doctor build a relationship, you will find that talking about your health is easier and more relaxing.

When you are going to your PCP for sickness or injuries, be sure to give the details. You might hear questions like:

  • When did your symptoms first start?
  • What makes it better/What makes it worse?
  • Has anyone in your family ever had anything like this before?

If you need help remembering any details, or if you're too sick to concentrate, have a friend or family member go with you. It's also a good idea to take notes on anything the doctor says, especially about how to take care of yourself.

When you're going to your PCP for well exams, such as a yearly physical or gynecological exam, you should be ready to update your PCP on your health since your last visit. Your PCP will need to know things like:

  • Any medicine, over-the-counter, diet supplements, and vitamins you are taking
  • Any changes in exercise or sports activities
  • Any recent falls or balance problems
  • Any visits to other healthcare providers (Emergency Room, Urgent Care, or specialists)
  • Any problems with depression or anxiety over life events
  • Any updates on flu or pneumonia shots, or vaccinations from pharmacies or health fairs
  • Any issues with bladder control

It can also be hard to understand what your doctor orders. There's a lot of information given. So, before you leave your doctor's office, make sure you know:

  • How to take any medicine or do any treatments you've been prescribed and how long to take the medication.
  • Periodically go over all of your medications with your PCP to see if you still need them all.
  • How long before you should be feeling better from any sickness or injuries
  • What you should do if you don't feel better in a certain amount of time
  • When your next visit is
  • If you need lab tests or x-rays
  • If your PCP wants you to see a specialist and, if so, how soon it should be

There's nothing wrong with writing questions down either. And don't be afraid to ask. That's what your PCP is there for. If you are confused, just remember these three questions from the National Patient Safety Foundation:

  • What is my main problem?
  • What do I need to do?
  • Why is it important to do this?

Your PCP is there to help you get healthy, stay healthy, and live a full and happy life. When it comes down to it, it's up to you to stay in the best shape possible through a healthy diet and exercise. And with open and honest communication with your PCP, the more you know and understand, the better you can take care of yourself.

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