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Getting the most from your primary care provider

  • Midwife Sarah Bay of Peterborough accompanied by her 3-month-old daughter, Nora Blair, works in her Peterborough practice on an afternoon in early April.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Alyssa Dandrea)

    Midwife Sarah Bay of Peterborough accompanied by her 3-month-old daughter, Nora Blair, works in her Peterborough practice on an afternoon in early April.

    (Staff photo by Alyssa Dandrea) Purchase photo reprints at Photo Finder »

  • Nurse Practitioner and Certified Nurse Midwife Sarah Bay of Peterborough -- accompanied by her 3-month-old daughter, Nora Blair -- at Bay's Peterborough office on an afternoon in early April.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Alyssa Dandrea)

    Nurse Practitioner and Certified Nurse Midwife Sarah Bay of Peterborough -- accompanied by her 3-month-old daughter, Nora Blair -- at Bay's Peterborough office on an afternoon in early April.

    (Staff photo by Alyssa Dandrea) Purchase photo reprints at Photo Finder »

  • Midwife Sarah Bay of Peterborough accompanied by her 3-month-old daughter, Nora Blair, works in her Peterborough practice on an afternoon in early April.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Alyssa Dandrea)
  • Nurse Practitioner and Certified Nurse Midwife Sarah Bay of Peterborough -- accompanied by her 3-month-old daughter, Nora Blair -- at Bay's Peterborough office on an afternoon in early April.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Alyssa Dandrea)

As you sit on that crinkly white paper that doctors’ offices place over the examining tables, your hands get clammy because your wondering what surprises your annual check up could have in store. You don’t necessarily feel much different than last year, but you are older and wondering if it might be time for one of those many cancer screenings you’ve heard people talking about. But what if the results come back positive? Is anyone really prepared for that?

For many of us, a visit to the doctor’s office can fill us with a world of uncertainties and leave us with questions that make us feel like we didn’t get the most out of the visit. But practicing nurse and certified midwife Sarah Bay of Peterborough said that time with your primary care provider should be valuable and not something to dread. In what follows, Bay offers some tips about how to find the right primary care provider and how to get the most out of each appointment.

During your annual check up, what are the top three things you should ask/consult your doctor or nurse practitioner about?

One of the first questions that patients should ask of their primary care providers is what screenings am I due for at my age, and what are the risks and benefits of those screenings, Bay said. “It’s important not to consent to any screening without knowing the consequences of a positive result,” she said, explaining that once you know the results you can’t turn back.

If you are due for a test or screening, Bay said don’t be afraid to ask your primary care provider for more time to think about the procedure before consenting to it. A person may want the advice of a family member or spouse, and it’s not always easy to make those big decisions in the few minutes that you’re in the examining room, she said.

More often than not, Bay said when people visit their doctor they forget questions that they had two weeks ago or two months ago, making it critical for people to write their concerns down. “You think of questions throughout the year, but when you get in the doctor’s office it’s easy to forget,” Bay said.

Furthermore, Bay said a doctor may not touch upon a health-related topic that you feel is important, so being prepared will allow you to move the conversation in a new direction and ensure that your needs are met.

What screenings or tests should adults be getting regularly, and why?

Almost all screenings are either checks for chronic illnesses or cancer-related detections, Bay said. “We want to detect illnesses early enough so that life changes can be made before a situation becomes too serious,” she said.

Some of the major cancer screenings are mammograms, colonoscopies, pap smears and testicular exams, while blood work will check your cholesterol, blood sugar and hormone levels.

But how often those tests are recommended depend upon age and family risk factors, Bay said. For example, someone with a family history of breast cancer is likely to have a mammogram earlier than someone of the same age who has no family history.

Whatever the test is, Bay said she encourages people to be active and not passive participants when it comes to their health care. “I appreciate when a patient comes in with clear questions and is comfortable delaying or refusing things,” Bay said. “You don’t have to agree with everything your doctor tells you.”

And even if you aren’t scheduled for a particular test or screening, Bay said it’s important to visit your primary care provider on an annual basis anyway so that you can discuss how you’re feeling and what you might expect in terms of your health in the year ahead.

“You begin to build a more meaningful picture of a person’s health that way, than if they were to [just] come in every five years for blood work,” Bay said.

How do I know I have the right primary care provider? What should a patient expect from his/her primary care provider?

A good primary care provider will listen to you and has time to answer your questions and concerns, according to Bay.

Oftentimes finding the right primary care provider, Bay said, is a matter of finding someone whose philosophy and personality complements yours.

“Some people like to have a lot of chit-chat time, while other people like to go to the doctor, get what they need and get out,” Bay said, noting that some patients like to have alternatives to traditional forms of treatment offered, and in those situations it’s great to find a primary care provider who can fulfill both needs.

Above all, Bay said people need to choose a primary care provider who understands and respects them.

“If you are not happy with someone, be brave enough to leave and find a care provider that does make you happy,” Bay said.

Keep an ear out for doctor’s office open houses, too, which are great opportunities for patients to talk with different primary care providers and find their match, Bay said.

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