Baseline: Why You Should Go to the Doctor Even When You Aren't Sick

There's a very famous family story where I made my husband go to the urgent care with me because I thought I had strep throat and if I did, he must too. It all started when one of my co-worker's sons had strep and she was telling me about it. I woke up the next day with a scratchy throat and knew it was time to go. In my family, both of my parents worked at hospitals and we were fairly quick to be seen if it appeared to "be something." My husband's family, on the other hand, not so much. These cultural influences play out as adults, as we try to make our own choices. I convinced him that we needed to go to the urgent care. We each got that awful gag-inducing swap and...he didn't have strep. Neither did I. He thought that was a wasted trip, and was very embarrassed that he'd gone to the doctor when he wasn't sick. 

But wait. Let me make the case for going to the doctor when you aren't sick. As a person who works in health care now, raised by people who had easy access to professional health care -- I'm shocked by the number of people who just don't want to or can't access health care. This means that they wait and see as their main method of dealing with health issues, and when they see that it's not getting better, they head to the drug store. Not to pick up a prescription called in to their doctor, but to browse the over-the-counter aisles to see if anything matches their symptoms. (Here's a great article from Altarum about lower income people's health habits.)

With increased health care access through insurance, these habits are still hard to break. Many people want to "save" going to the doctor for when they really need it. But here are three reasons to go now:

1. Build a relationship with your doctor and talk about your current health. How do you feel? What could you be doing better? What advice does the doctor have for you? Are you due for any screenings?

 2. Think about your health. If you are avoiding the doctor because you think she's just going to tell you to lose weight -- think about that. What are your obstacles in losing weight? How do you think it's affecting your health? What are your goals, for your health and your life?

3. Get your vitals taken. These data points help provide a baseline for the future, when your doctor might notice a spike in your lab results, your blood pressure or your weight. These things can help catch serious problems sooner (when they might be solved more easily) but they can't catch anything if you don't go in! 

In short, don't be embarrassed to go in for a check up, or just to check in about your health questions. Your health is an important part of your life, and these maintenance appointments can help in the long run. As for my husband, he is still more doctor resistant than I am, but he's getting better. My work is not clinical, it's patient experience and patient-centered qualitative work -- so I consider every encounter a learning experience. Try to schedule an appointment when you don't need it so you can improve your experience when you do. I try to schedule an annual check-up near my birthday as a kind of self-care, and my very smart PCP always makes me tell him what's on my mind so we can work together on it. Try it!

(Originally published on LinkedIn June 13, 2016)