Dr. Donna Michelson (right) has some tips for making the most of your primary care visit.

If you’ve been putting off going to the doctor for your checkup, we have some good news.  Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, with most insurance companies and in most situations, checkups are now provided without a copay or deductible. To get the most of this valuable benefit, it’s important to do more than make an appointment and show up at the doctor’s office.  Preparation is important, especially if you’re a new patient seeing your primary care physician for the first time.

Dr. Donna Michelson, a primary care physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital Primary Care Associates at Norwood, has some useful tips for how to prepare yourself and your doctor.

  1. Just the facts.  Gather your medical records.  Don’t assume that your physician will have all of your medical records.  Even though many doctors are using electronic medical records, their systems may not talk to each other.  Dr. Michelson advises requesting your medical records from anyone who has been recently involved in your care.  She suggests making a copy of these records to keep at home and sending a set to your physician ahead of your appointment.
  2. Know your numbers.  Make sure your medical records include the dates and results of your most recent screening tests.  Tests that are especially important for your primary care doctor to see include mammograms, bone density scans, colonoscopies, and blood work for cholesterol and diabetes.
  3. Don’t procrastinate.   Complete your health history questionnaire before your appointment.  At Brigham and Women’s Primary Care Associates at Norwood, patients are sent a health history questionnaire to complete prior to their appointment.  If your office doesn’t routinely do this, request that they send you the form. Completing your health history questionnaire in advance provides a good overview of your health and can fill in any gaps in your medical records—such as hospitalizations, family history of illness, etc.
  4. What’s in your medicine chest — and kitchen cabinet?  When gathering your medical records, be sure to include a complete list of medications.  This includes more than your prescription drugs.  You also want to include over the counter medications that you take on a regular basis, such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen, aspirin, and cold medications.  Also remember to list any vitamins or dietary supplements. Dr. Michelson notes that your physician can help you determine if things like supplements are providing you health benefits based on current medical research.
  5. Prepare to discuss online health habits too.  According to the Pew Internet and American Life Project, among Americans who use the Internet, 80 percent have searched for health information online.  However, it can be difficult to determine whether this information is accurate and reliable.  Jot down those sites that you visit and bring them with you to your appointment.  Your primary care physician, Dr. Michelson advises, can direct you to reputable health care sites and useful apps that provide helpful, not harmful, information.
  6. Any questions?  Many of us already bring a list of questions on the day of the appointment, but sending them ahead of time can be helpful for your doctor as well.  If you’re a patient of Brigham and Women’s Hospital, you can use Patient Gateway to submit questions to your physician via a secure website.  If not, consult your physician’s office to find out how to securely send messages to your doctor to safeguard your privacy.

So help your doctor help you.  Make sure he or she has all of your health information ahead of time.  That way you can both focus on your care, not organizing your medical records.

What tips do you have for organizing your medical information and sharing it with your physicians?

- Jamie R

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