glenn ellis

Glenn Ellis

*Here’s a disturbing stat: Some 60 million Americans – one in five – “have no usual source of medical care, such as a family doctor or clinic.”

Reasons varied. More than two-thirds of the African Americans who reported not having a family doctor or to regularly visit a clinic attributed this to a lack of need: They claimed to seldom or never be ill. Others who avoid the doctor have cited the high cost of health care, especially some 29 percent of those who lack insurance (compared to just four percent of people who are privately insured). At 22 percent, Hispanics were the largest ethnic group avoiding doctors and clinics. A few people just don’t trust doctors. Asians were most likely to give this reason – 12 percent versus 4 percent for all other Americans.

Lots of people will head to the doctor and will simply assume that just because they obtain a clean bill of health from the medical doctor that they are healthy. In truth, however, you’re more likely to be sick or have health concerns with the more medications and such that you’re on not just as a result of interactions from such medications but also because the more medicines you are on the more likely it is that you are controlling more serious health conditions. When it comes to health you are probably healthier the less time you spend in the doctor’s office.

Even a clean health examination is not a guarantee of health and while a physician will check some basic things while you are in the office for a check up, it’s likely that you could have a significant health crisis following a visit to the medical doctor. As a matter of fact there are actually numerous things that a health care provider is not going to look for if you do not tell him that you’re experiencing issues in a particular region or area. When it comes to health even utilizing the best and most innovative tools is not going to guarantee that your doctor will discover every problem that you’re having. It is very important to realize there is more to formulating a diagnosis then just a few cursory screenings performed at a routine health exam.

A large part of forming an accurate diagnosis arises from the information that the health care provider obtains from you. This information will help them evaluate what could possibly be wrong with you and can alert them as to where to look in terms of suspect areas of the body or specific diagnosis instruments and tests that they will be able to do to help further eliminate or narrow down health concerns.

Generally the doctor uses an assortment of tools with which to gather information about the patients that they see. These tools not only include the basic screening tools but additionally include the interview with the patient together with the information which they gather through the initial paperwork and family history forms, and this is one of the reasons why these documents are completed for each and every visit to help note any significant changes and alert the doctor to any areas of concern.

While regular doctor’s visits will not make you healthy it is very important know that these visits can   certainly go a long way in helping to not only make the doctor aware of potential health issues but the patient as well. Sometimes it is during the point at which the individual is looking at the questions on a health history form that they notice that they have something significant going on that they should alert the doctor about. Sometimes just opening up the dialogue during these visits is enough to save a person’s life and keep them healthy.

In general, low-income Americans were less likely to avail themselves of doctors and clinics on a regular basis. This doesn’t mean they won’t use emergency rooms when they do become sick. Indeed, other studies have shown that too many people use high-overhead hospital emergency services to handle routine medical needs – precisely because they don’t have a regular doctor. 

Not seeing a physician for regular checkups and immunizations may account for why so many people walk around with symptomless illness, such as atherosclerosis and diabetes. Without early diagnosis and treatment, these silent disorders can worsen and lead to more costly and less effective therapy if and when symptoms do worsen.

So when you sit down with your doctor, what things should you be discussing? What things determine your risk?

  • Heredity – If everyone in your family has a heart attack when they are young, it is smart to worry about heart disease early. If they all lived to be 100, then not so much. Discuss the significance of these facts with your doctor. Some diseases are more significant to have in your family tree than others. Colon cancer, for example, has a strong genetic link, whereas leukemia is not as clearly genetic.
  • Lifestyle – Do you smoke? Do you drink? Do you spend your time in front of the TV eating cookie dough ice cream? Do you work around asbestos or lead? All of these facts need to be discussed because they can affect your health.
  • Your Medical History – Diabetes, high blood pressure, past history of cancer, or prolonged use of certain medications will play a big part in determining what has to be monitored or watched out for.
  • Age and sex – people who are in their 20’s are more likely to die from accidents than they are of cancer. Men have heart disease earlier than women, but women are much more at risk for breast cancer. All of these can make a difference in the risks you are more prone for.

You can make your visit fruitful by doing your homework beforehand. Be ready to share any changes in your family history, any new allergies or medications (including over-the-counter), and any changes to your lifestyle. Also keep up on information about the latest preventive medicine guidelines so you’ll know what to expect and what questions to ask.

So what’s the next step? Usually the doctor makes you get naked and put on a paper gown, and then leaves you to shiver on the exam room table for 10-20 minutes while he gets the stethoscope out of the freezer. (just kidding)

Seriously, the next step is the physical exam. To be honest, the physical exam is probably the least important part of this entire process. I am not saying it shouldn’t be done, but a good history and discussion of risk factors is far more important than a thorough examination. The most important parts of the exam are the blood pressure, weight, breath sounds, and heart exam. Women, of course, get their own special exam.

Maybe someday we will get those full body scanners they have on Star Trek that can prove that we are healthy. But as of now, we need to use that boring thing called common sense.

One additional thing: If you have tests run by your doctor and don’t hear about the results, don’t assume “no news is good news.” You should always find out the results of any test you have done, and what those results mean.

Remember, I’m not a doctor. I just sound like one.

Take good care of yourself and live the best life possible!

The information included in this column is for educational purposes only. It is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. The reader should always consult his or her healthcare provider to determine the appropriateness of the information for their own situation or if they have any questions regarding a medical condition or treatment plan.

Glenn Ellis,  is a Health Advocacy Communications Specialist. He is the author of Which Doctor?, and is  a health columnist and radio commentator who lectures, and is an active media contributor nationally and internationally on health related topics.

His second book, “Information is the Best Medicine”, was released in January, 2012.

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