The Doctor Visit: A Woman's Guide
Before the Visit
How Do I Prepare?
Keep a "Health Diary"
Keeping a health diary* between appointments can help you get the most out of your doctor visit. Documenting any illnesses, bodily changes, persistent/unusual symptoms and feminine health concerns all enable you to better manage the visit by remembering to discuss these issues with your doctor. Armed with this knowledge, your doctor will be able to conduct the exam more effectively and efficiently. This written record also will assist you in recognizing symptom recurrences.
Document Difficult Questions
Some women are uncomfortable discussing family or sexual matters with a physician. Writing down "difficult" questions sometimes makes it easier to address them in person, so you might want to list your concerns or any problems in advance of the visit. (See health diary checklist as below).
Remember Your Medical Records
If you're seeing a physician for the first time, be sure to obtain your medical records from your previous doctor. This file belongs to you and should be provided free of charge. Your medical history, combined with your personal health diary, will supply your new doctor with a complete snapshot of your situation.
During the Visit
What Should I Expect?
Managing your doctor visit is similar to approaching a business meeting. Since time is valuable to both you and your physician, come prepared and keep your conversation focused, using your health diary as an agenda. Aside from specific physical concerns, don't hesitate to discuss financial matters (e.g., exam fees) upfront, so there are no "surprises" later.
This is also a good time to bring up new topics on your list. Do you need a recommendation for a weight loss program? Do you want to quit smoking, but don't know how to start? Is a family member suffering from alcoholism? Your doctor is a knowledgeable referral source for these and many other issues.
Expect the "Expected," Request the Routine
The following are generally covered during a typical gynecological exam:
- Blood pressure
- External exam (breasts and abdomen)
- Pap smear (cervix)
- Internal pelvic exam (vagina, reproductive organs)
- Colo-rectal exam (recommended for women 40+)
If you're among the 24 percent of women surveyed who see no other doctor besides a gynecologist, it's important to tell your gynecologist if she/he is your only physician- otherwise you could be missing additional tests routine in a general physical, such as a urine analysis, cholesterol test or blood sugar exam. Unless requested, your gynecologist may assume that you've already received these tests elsewhere.
What Should I Do?
What should you do between appointments? The best advice is to pay attention to the signals from your body, using your health diary as a guide.
Today, the role of self-care has been made easier by the introduction of effective over-the-counter (OTC) methods and medicines that can help you detect early signs of pregnancy, treat the symptoms of vaginal yeast infections and monitor ovulation in the comfort and privacy of your home. if this is the first time you've ever experienced a condition, it's smart to consult your physician to confirm the diagnosis before using an OCT treatment.
Many doctors don't mind if you call for advice. Phoning your physician first has become a cost- and time- saving method and may spare you an unnecessary office visit if an OCT (over the counter) treatment can be recommended instead. Don't hesitate, however, to schedule an appointment if symptoms persist or become serious.
Practice Preventive Maintenance
Remember, you and your doctor are a team, jointly responsible for the maintenance of your health. Contrary to the "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" philosophy, be sure to schedule a regular check-up (physical and gynecological) at least once a year, and confer with your physician as often as necessary between visits to discuss issues concerning you. Preventive maintenance goes a long way in keeping your bill of health clean for years to come.
Health Diary Checklist
I won't forget to tell my doctor ...
- Timing/frequency of any illnesses
- Missed or irregular periods
- Date of last period_____________
- Frequency of vaginal yeast infections or unusual vaginal discharge
- Difficulty or pain during sexual intercourse
- Dramatic weight fluctuation or inability to maintain/lose weight
- High _______________
- Hair loss/skin changes
- Variations in fingernail strength/growth
- Other issues to address (smoking, drinking, sexual, emotional or family problems, etc.)