Work with a Doctor
If you sometimes put off going to the doctor, you’re not alone. But working with a doctor can be a huge win for your heart health. And now is the perfect time to start.
Remember, doctors and other medical professionals are here to keep you healthy. And you have a right to get the care you need from someone who’s on your side. So find a doctor you like and trust, and start working together to get your heart health on track.
Doctors can help you protect your heart
There’s a lot of heart-healthy steps you can take on your own — like eating healthy meals and getting more physical activity. But there are also times when you need to team up with a professional. They can:
- Help you understand your personal risk for heart attack and stroke
- Check your blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol — and prescribe medicines to manage them if needed
- Keep track of your numbers over time — and catch problems early, before they cause a heart attack or stroke
- Refer you to a cardiologist (heart doctor) or another specialist if you need one
How can I get started?
It’s best to find a doctor you can keep seeing over time. If you already have a primary care doctor, that’s great. If not, no worries! But now is a great time to find a doctor who you trust — someone who understands your needs and makes you feel comfortable.
Find the right doctor for you
It can take time to find the right doctor, but it’s worth the effort. Try these tips:
- Ask friends and family. A recommendation from a loved one can go a long way toward finding a doctor you feel comfortable with.
- Get a referral from another doctor. If you’ve seen a specialist you liked for a health condition, ask them to recommend a good primary care doctor near you.
- Go through your insurance company. Most health insurance plans have online tools to help you find in-network doctors in your area.
- If you don’t have insurance, try a local health center. Local community health centers offer care to everyone, whether you have insurance or not.
Make sure your doctor is a good fit
If you don’t click with a doctor, you can always switch. Doctors are there to help and support you. If you ever feel uncomfortable or like your doctor isn’t giving you the support you need, don’t hesitate to make a change. Remember, it’s all about finding your rhythm and doing what works for you!
Work with other medical professionals, too
Doctors with “MD” after their name aren’t the only ones who can help protect your heart health. Team up with all types of medical professionals to get the care you need:
- Remember that nurse practitioners (NPs) and physician’s assistants (PAs) are great choices for primary care. So if you’re looking for a primary care doctor, consider NPs and PAs — the important thing is to find someone you trust.
- Talk with a pharmacist about your medicines. Pharmacists can help you understand when and how to take medicines — and answer questions about common side effects. The next time you pick up a prescription, take time to chat with your pharmacist.
- See specialists as needed. If you get diagnosed with heart disease or diabetes, you may need to see other types of specialists — like a cardiologist or a diabetes educator. Your primary care doctor can help refer you to the right specialists.
- Get support for your mental health. Stress and anxiety can be bad for your heart. If you’re having issues with your mental health, tell the doctor. They can refer you to a therapist or offer tips to help you stress less and start feeling better.
If you can’t go in person, try telehealth
Getting to the doctor’s office can be a challenge sometimes. But many doctors provide care by phone or video chat, so you can get the help you need without ever leaving the house! Call the doctor’s office and ask about telehealth options.
Get ready for your first visit
A little prep work can help you make the most of your time with the doctor. Use these tips:
- Write it down. Jot down questions and concerns ahead of time so you don’t forget. You can also plan to take notes during the visit — or even record it on your smartphone so you can listen to it later.
- Ask for forms ahead of time. When you see a new doctor, you’ll have to fill out forms about your medical history. Ask the office to send these forms ahead of time — that way you won’t be rushed, and you’ll have time to ask any questions about the forms.
- Gather what you need. Bring your insurance cards, a list of medicines you take, and a list of other doctors you’ve seen. If you have paper medical records, bring those with you, too — otherwise, your new doctor can get them from previous doctors.
- Bring support. If going to the doctor makes you nervous (totally normal, by the way), ask a family member or friend to go with you. Having a friendly face in the room can help you feel more comfortable — and give you more confidence to speak up if something doesn’t feel right.
Talk with your family about their health — and yours
A new doctor will ask you about your family health history. Before your first visit, make time to chat with your parents and other loved ones about health conditions that run in your family. This information can help the doctor understand your risk for heart problems.
It’s your health care… make it work for you
When it comes to your health care, you’re in control. You deserve quality care that makes you feel supported. So take charge of your care and get the most out of each visit with the doctor.
Be open and honest
To give you the best care, your doctor needs the whole story about your health. Skip the urge to sugar-coat the truth or avoid touchy subjects. Try these tips:
- Give your doctor the facts. Nothing you say in a visit will shock the doctor — they’ve heard it all. When they ask about things like smoking or physical activity, be totally honest. Blame is not the goal here, and this information is key to getting you the best care.
- Be proactive. If something’s bothering you, don’t wait for the doctor to ask. Bring up concerns right away — like if you have a new symptom or you’re not sure a medicine is working for you.
- Set boundaries when you need to. If certain topics are off limits for you, say so. For example, some people may avoid going to the doctor because they don’t want to talk about their weight. But a good doctor will be willing to work within your comfort zone. Remember, you’re in control — and you can set limits that make you feel safe.
Ask lots of questions
Medical visits can be quick — and it may be hard to take in all the information. But remember, this is your time to get a handle on your health! Don’t hesitate to ask all the questions you need. For example:
- Why do I need this medicine? Are there any side effects to watch for?
- What do my blood pressure and cholesterol numbers mean?
- What types of foods should I eat or avoid? How much physical activity do I need?
- What’s the number 1 step I need to take for my heart health?
If you have questions between visits, you may be able to get quick answers through email, a patient portal, or a nurse hotline. Ask your doctor about the best way to contact them if you have follow-up questions.
Make your voice heard
Doctors are busy, and they can be distracted or forgetful just like everyone else. Make sure you’re getting the attention and care you deserve:
- If the doctor brushes off a concern you raised, don’t just let it go — repeat yourself and explain why you’re worried about the issue
- If you feel rushed during visits, try writing down your 2 or 3 most pressing questions and sharing the list with the doctor
- If the doctor says to keep an eye on something like your blood pressure or cholesterol, follow up — ask about it again at your next visit
- If you’re confused or concerned by a doctor’s recommendations, ask them to explain the plan again — or get a second opinion from another doctor
And if you feel like the doctor is ignoring you or you just don’t feel good about the experience, find a new doctor who treats you with respect. Because health care works best when you and your doctor work together.
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Family Health History for Adults
Use this guide to talk with loved ones about heart disease and other conditions that run in your family — and share the information with a doctor.