Creating a Baseline With Your Physician

Posted By SHL Librarian

Presented by: Mary James, MD
Clinical Assistant Professor of Medicine
Stanford University Medical Center
January 29, 2015

When it comes to getting the best medical care, Mary James, MD, believes firmly that prevention is key.

That has led her to urge people to set up a health baseline with their doctors. Taking stock of one’s own physical, mental and emotional health can be the first step in preventing problems years later. Who should have this type of evaluation?

“Almost everyone,” said Dr. James, clinical assistant professor of medicine, at a presentation sponsored by the Stanford Health Library. Healthy or not, young and old can all benefit.

People might think setting a health baseline is only relevant for those facing chronic or complex illnesses later in life. But Dr. James notes that it can be useful for all ages. “It can pay off for everyone,” she said. “Taking pro-active steps can prevent problems down the road.”

A health baseline can be the starting point for assessing existing illness or future potential health issues. Preventive care can reduce the need for later hospitalizations or more prescription medicine. Routine preventive screenings—including Pap smears, cholesterol tests, and screening for colon cancer–have clear benefits. “It can reduce your risk of getting things we worry about, like cancer, like heart disease, like stroke,” Dr. James said.

At least one survey has found most people like getting regular checkups. “It decreases patient worries. People just felt better when they checked in with their primary care provider,” Dr. James said.

Routine health maintenance evaluations are often not a priority for healthy individuals in their 20s, 30s and 40s. But being young, thin and fit does not necessarily exclude someone from needing possible medical intervention, Dr. James said.

Setting up a health baseline early in life may spot some issues before they get serious. Personal health goals like weight management can be part of a baseline followed with a doctor at regular health checks.

For people with multiple or complex illnesses that need to be managed, setting up a health baseline can make sure they can keep track of all the help and treatments they need. Dr. James advised people to take the initiative in finding the right doctor—and insurance plan—to work with.

A crucial step is for each individual to choose the doctor that suits him or her. The best fit can depend on a mix of personal preference and personality as much as medical skills. Asking friends and neighbors for suggestions is a good way to start.

Once a person has chosen a doctor and scheduled a first appointment, Dr. James had several tips for getting the most out of that first baseline visit. She advised doing some “homework” in advance:

  • Before the first appointment, check to see if there will be a medical history questionnaire to fill out. If so, arrange to get a copy in advance so you can fill it out before you arrive.
  • Spend some time before the day of the appointment recalling or tracking down immediate family history.
  • If you have copies of key medical records from a previous doctor, bring those.  These should include your previous immunizations, lab results and procedures.
  • Write down questions you have in advance, and bring a pen with paper. During the visit, write down any recommended tests or appointments.
  • Bring a list of medicines you take, including prescription and over-the-counter drugs. Even better, bring the pill bottles.
  • Arrive on time—or better yet, early. Allow enough time to find parking and walk to the office.

“That will help drive the visit to you getting what you need,” Dr. James said.

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About Dr. James