Going to the doctor probably isn’t on your list of hobbies, but since there’s virtually a 100% chance you’ll end up in a physician’s office at some point in your life, you might as well make the most of your time there. But once you’ve made an appointment, left work, and read National Geographic magazines from the ‘70s, how do you know you’re ready for the moment of truth?
We asked some docs about the mistakes that people make before, during, and after they come in for a checkup -- and how to optimize those precious few minutes you get with a real, live physician.
Not treating your choice of doctor as though your life depends on it
The number one thing that can make going to the doctor better is choosing one you like, which takes some time and research. That sucks, but being sick and desperate for a prescription sucks worse.
“Picking a doctor should be like picking a sherpa,” says Dr. Adnan Khera of Tufts Medical Center in Boston. Sherpas are pretty important! You want someone you trust and can develop a good rapport with. And be honest with yourself: gender may be a legitimate factor (if you're a dude who doesn't want to tell a lady doc about an issue down there, that's not going to work, and vice versa). Get recommendations from people you trust (i.e., take Yelp with a grain of salt), and if you don't jive with someone, don’t hesitate to make a change.
Thinking physicals are unnecessary
Once you have a doctor, go. No, seriously. Going to the doctor when you’re healthy may seem like an invitation to illness, but it gives you a great excuse to take a long lunch break. It’s also an opportunity to screen for issues you’d rather not think about (getting those STD tests done, for example), figure out what to watch out for in the future, and update your vaccinations.
And don’t worry about being judged by your doc if you haven’t exactly treated your body like a temple: “Do not avoid going to the doctor because you are worried you have fallen off the wagon,” advises Dr. Cara Heller of Temple University Hospital in Philadelphia. The best case scenario is that you find out you're perfectly healthy, and if not, you can start getting there.
Screwing with your medication
When your physician prescribes something or makes a recommendation, it's not just for the hell of it. Don't stray from the plan without letting your physician know! “One problem is taking non-FDA approved drugs. A lot of them are harmful,” explains Dr. Edward Chu of Massachusetts General Hospital. “Another one is stopping a medication early instead of finishing the entire course,” which is especially important with antibiotics.
Remaining willfully ignorant of your and your family’s history
Have your facts straight on your own health and your family's -- did granddaddy really die of natural causes? What was that medicine you took when you were eight that turned your face into a giant pumpkin and sent you to the ER? “The more you know about your medical history, the better,” advises Dr. Heller. “This includes any medicines you've been on, what worked, what didn't, and any crazy side effects you've had. Come prepared.”
Not keeping a health journal (or not bringing it)
This isn’t the “Dear Diary, today I had a cough and an upset stomach, probably from that burrito” type of diary. Think of your doctor’s visit like an important meeting at work. You need to do a little bit of prep if you want it to go well. “It helps to come with a mental list of the top things you need to have addressed on this visit and tell your doctor about them right away,” emphasizes Dr. Heller. “Do not throw in problems at the end of the visit or you will run out of time.”
If something’s been bothering you for a while, keep track of the details. “If you are having migraines, it would be useful to know when they are occurring, how frequently, and what the possible triggers are,” says Dr. Heller. This shouldn't be news -- you've heard these kinds of questions at the doctor before, so they're no cause for a blank stare.
Letting shyness get the better of you
Doctors touch you in strange places and ask you invasive questions. The instinct is to hold back -- everyone does this, even YOU -- but really, you shouldn’t.
If you're stressed out about asking a sensitive question, resolve to do it as soon as you see the doctor. “Patients will wait until the last minute of an office visit to bring up something they find awkward,” Dr. Heller observes. “Do not do this. Trust me, whatever you have is probably much more common than you think.” Everyone has a gross body. Get over yourself.
Googling (too much)
You’re dizzy, so you must be having a stroke! And probably have heart arrhythmia! Combined with a panic attack and pregnancy? Sounds about right.
There are tons of common symptoms that can point to a bunch of different problems, ranging in seriousness from “rush to the ER” to “drink some water.” You obviously want to catch serious stuff as soon as possible, but you don’t want to go crazy with self-diagnosis. “Some people are over-vigilant with their health, and they go and look for diagnoses online,” observes Dr. Chu. “Not a bad thing, per se, but it causes a lot of unnecessary anxiety.”
Online health information is definitely valuable -- see: Thrillist Health -- but don't forget that your doc has gone through at least seven years of training to learn to determine what your symptoms mean.
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Marina Komarovsky is a Freelance Writer for Thrillist and she tries to interview her docs for articles during appointments (not recommended). For more on health and healthcare, follow her tweets @MariKomarovsky.