It’s normal to be nervous about your annual primary care visit, but it’s important to get past the nerves and develop a relationship with a primary care provider.
Your provider can help prevent disease, manage chronic conditions, get referrals for tests or specialists and more.
Tomisha Byard, a family nurse practitioner at Regional One Health’s Harbor of Health, says patients can make the most out of their annual checkup by knowing their medical history, being honest about their lifestyle and having a thorough physical exam.
Maybe you’re like clockwork about seeing your primary care provider. Or, maybe you’ve put it off for years. Either way, it’s normal to be nervous walking into the exam room.
Regional One Health family nurse practitioner Tomisha Byard, MSN, FNP-BC hopes to put patients at ease by telling them what to expect. Byard said annual primary care visits are crucial for preventing health problems and managing conditions a patient is already dealing with.
“You’re taking a big step toward improving your health,” she said. “We understand patients might be nervous, and we try to put them at ease. We’re not out to judge you or hurt you – we want to partner with you to improve your health.”
She addressed some of the big questions and concerns patients have about their annual checkup.
How should I prepare?
Come ready with relevant medical information, Byard said:
- Your personal and family history for both physical and mental health
- Which medications you take and why you’re taking them
- Details of past surgeries
“This is all stuff to think about, because we’re going to ask you for sure,” Byard said.
I’m scared to be honest about bad habits
Byard suggests taking an honest, detailed stock of your lifestyle ahead of time, including:
- Do you smoke? How much, and for how long?
- How many alcoholic beverages do you consume per day?
- Do you exercise regularly?
- What type of foods do you usually eat?
- What is your sexual activity and history?
- What type of activities do you do at work?
“Those questions may feel personal and nosy, but that information goes into your care,” Byard said. “We want to optimize the health care we provide. Just think of it as an interview about you so we can provide the most individualized care.”
What can I expect in terms of a physical exam?
Your provider will conduct a physical examination to look at crucial health indicators:
- Weight and height
- Heart rate and blood pressure
You will also have a blood draw to test your cholesterol, thyroid function, diabetes, iron level and more. Your provider will look more closely at any problem areas you bring up.
Aside from major health issues, what will my provider look for?
Your provider will check to see if you have all your immunizations, which can be verified by your bloodwork. Byard said this includes the vaccinations patients typically receive as a child as well as other age- or season-appropriate shots:
- Influenza: Recommended by the end of October and offered through April 1
- Pneumonia: For patients age 65 and over or with certain chronic conditions
- Shingles: For adults 50 and over
- Meningitis: For college-bound students
- HPV vaccination: This shot for cervical cancer, vulvar and vaginal cancer, anal cancer and genital warts can be given as early as age 9
What if I need follow-up care?
You’re in the right place. Byard said primary care providers counsel patients on additional tests they may need:
- Mammograms for average-risk women age 40 and over
- Colonoscopies for average-risk patients 50 and over
- Pap smears for women starting at age 21
- Prostate screening starting at age 45 for men with average risk
Byard leaves plenty of time for patients to ask questions so she can recommend additional tests or refer them to a specialist for specific concerns.
What will I gain from seeing a primary care provider?
They can detect “silent killers” like heart disease or diabetes and get you on the path to treatment and management. They help prevent disease, detect issues early, manage overall care with specialists and testing, and address acute illness or injury.
By building a relationship with a provider and having regular exams, you take charge of your health. “The sooner you come in to learn about your health, the less likely you’ll suffer from chronic conditions,” Byard said. “It you have chronic conditions, we can identify ways to keep them from getting worse. Primary care is in our name – we want to provide that preventative medicine and partner with you to keep you healthy.”