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How to make the most of a primary care visit

A visit to your primary care provider (PCP) is a great chance to make sure you’re staying on top of your health.

But your time with your PCP isn’t unlimited. You might have a lot you need to cover, like immediate health concerns you have, various preventive services, and conversations about your overall well-being. You might also need bloodwork or lab tests, and your PCP might need to refer you to a specialist for other health problems.

“Much like your trusted mechanic to keep your car running, your primary care physician is your partner to keep you mentally and physically ‘running’ smoothly,’” says Dr. Ian Bushell, a family medicine physician and medical director for BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee. “Be open and honest with them and work together on your roadmap to optimal health and wellbeing.”

Dr. Bushell has some additional advice for you, as you prepare for your next visit to your primary care provider:

Know why you’re going

Your PCP can’t do everything in one visit. “That’s not how the system is set up,” explains Dr. Bushell, adding that your insurance coverage covers certain types of preventive care, but your doctor has to assign the correct preventive billing codes to those services. If you receive a different type of care, your doctor will assign a different billing code so your insurance will cover that care under non-preventive benefits.

So, you’ll need to think about that in advance. Are you going in for a sick visit? A wellness check or physical? A nagging pain? A flu shot?

Make a list of questions in advance

It’s worth taking some time to prepare before your visit – so you can make the most of your time with your doctor. Before your appointment, make a list of your questions or concerns. That way, you won’t forget to ask your doctor the important questions that could slip your mind. Your list could include questions like:

  • Do I need to get any bloodwork done today? When can I get the results?
  • Do I need any vaccinations?
  • Do I need any other tests?
  • What preventive health screenings do I need to schedule?
  • Does my family history indicate that I should be watching out for any conditions?

It might also help you to take notes on the answers in case you have trouble remembering later on.

Be honest

Your PCP can offer the most help if you’re open about the medications you take, the symptoms you’re experiencing, the fears you have, and the behaviors you engage in. Your doctor has almost certainly heard or seen it all before.

“They’re not there to judge you,” says Dr. Bushell. “They’re truly there to help you. They’ve seen thousands of patients, and the things we do as patients are not unique. So, it’s important to share everything.”

Plus, they need the correct information so they don’t miss anything when making a diagnosis or recommending a treatment, he adds.

Bring a list of medications you’re taking

Your doctor needs to know all the medications that you’re taking so they can make sure none of them may be causing harmful interactions. Most primary care practices use an electronic health record system that will list medications that you’ve told them that you’re taking. But if you’ve received a prescription from a specialist or other doctor, that information might not have made it into your record.

Bring along a list of all the medications, including vitamins and herbal supplements, that you’re taking so you can provide this information to your PCP. If your eye doctor recommended eye drops, or your dentist prescribed a painkiller, include those on your list, too, says Dr. Bushell.

Ask if you don’t understand something

Sometimes you can feel overwhelmed with information during a visit. Don’t be afraid to ask for clarification if you don’t understand something your doctor is telling you. In fact, your PCP wants you to let them know when you’re not clear on something so they can help you out.

“Don’t feel embarrassed to ask,” says Dr. Bushell. “You don’t want to protect your pride at the expense of your health.”

Bring your planner with you

You may have already received one of BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee’s Health Planners in the mail. This planner can be a useful tool to bring with you to your next visit to your primary care provider, says Dr. Bushell.

BlueCross mails these personalized Health Planners to its members to help them keep track of their screenings. Think of them like a scorecard. They list the types of care that everyone should receive on a regular basis, as along with other care recommendations based on your age and sex. If you have a special health condition like diabetes, your card will include a list of related exams or tests you need, too.

Each item on your list gets a status update. Your planner might give the date of your last physical exam with your primary care provider, but it might also note that you’re overdue for a colorectal cancer screening or your biannual eye exam. Use it as a reminder to help you when you visit your PCP for a wellness visit or physical. (It might also provide answers to some of the questions that you might have for your PCP.)

BlueCross members can use the Find Care tool to find a PCP, or to find a new PCP if they want to change providers.

Jennifer Larson

Jennifer Larson is Nashville-based writer and editor with nearly 20 years of experience. She specializes in health care and family issues.

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Get more information about specific health terms, topics and conditions to better manage your health on BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee members can access wellness-related discounts on fitness products, gym memberships, healthy eating and more through Blue365®. BCBST members can also find tools and resources to help improve health and well-being by logging into BlueAccess and going to the Managing Your Health tab.


WellTuned provides inspiration and practical advice for healthy living.
WellTuned does not offer medical advice. Any personal health questions should be addressed to your doctor.

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