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Playing Doctor: How to Use Your Doctor to Stay Healthy

Sometimes the idea of going to the doctor can be scary—will your doctor judge you? Did you somehow contract an STD during your crazy first semester at college? And all of a sudden you freeze up and focus on getting in and out of the doctor’s office as quickly as possible, rather than taking advantage of the knowledgeable medical resource who you have some one-on-one time with and who is here to help YOU. Here, HC provides a few tips on how to make the most out of your next visit to the doc, as well as what to do leading up to your next appointment.

Keep a Health Diary:

When you have medical-related questions throughout the year, such as a terrible, splitting headache or complications during your period, write them down! You might think you’ll remember them, but chances are you won’t. Some people tend to freeze up in the doctor’s office. Having a list with you will help you to remember what it was you wanted to ask, and what your major concerns are. And don’t be embarrassed to read your health concerns off of a list. There’s nothing embarrassing about being concerned about your own health. Mark Georgiadis, Clinical Associate Professor of Medicine at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, says that bringing a list of any medications you’re taking is crucial as well. “Patients often don’t know their medications. Bringing an accurate list of what you’re taking with you to your appointment is helpful and recommended,” Georgiadis says. So any time you start taking something new, add it to your Health Diary!

Know your history:

You need to know your family history in order to understand your own body. Serious health problems could be hereditary, and they may not affect you until later in life. So it’s important to ask your parents and grandparents about serious health issues they’ve dealt with in their lifetimes. Georgiadis also said that family history is a serious concern when it comes to birth control. “Birth control is easy to obtain,” he said, but if the recipient doesn’t give her doctor her full family history, she could be in trouble.” Georgiadis said that before asking for birth control, give your prescriber a full family history, especially history of blood clots in your family. Certain birth control pills affect your body differently. If you have a history of blood clots in your family, taking birth control may not be the best idea, because the pill could cause a blood clot. Lisa Dinnin, a Medical Assistant in Pittsburgh, PA, adds that there are other precautions to take when prescribing birth control. “Smoking is another risk factor associated with taking birth control. Smoking, taking birth control and having a family history of blood clots put you at a greater risk of having a stroke,” she said, “This is why it is crucial to be honest with your doctor.”

Don’t rely on the Internet:

Many college students turn to the Internet in order to diagnose their illnesses because it’s easy, free and private. Georgiadis said there are many problems with this method. One problem is in not getting a real medical opinion and potentially missing something that could be serious. For example, “If you have a cold and congestion, but no fever or shortness of breath, then treating yourself is fine. However, if that cold is associated with fever or shortness of breath, or it doesn’t go away for days, treating yourself can be dangerous,” Georgiadis said. He said that the fever is the alert that something is wrong, and you need to see a doctor. As another example, “If your stomach aches for a days, it’s not a big deal. But if you can’t move or it doesn’t go away, you cannot just diagnose yourself. You need to go get evaluated,” Georgaidis said. He said it’s important to use common sense, and to listen to your body.
On the flip side of this, Dinnin also says that reading symptoms on the Internet may cause you to think you have something worse than what you actually have. “People read into too many symptoms and end up thinking they have every disease they read about on the Internet,” she said. Dinnin says the Internet is helpful, but you shouldn’t rely on it. “It’s helpful, it gives you an idea of what may be wrong with you, but you need to be careful about just googling symptoms. Information on the Internet should be used in conjunction with your doctor,” Dinnin said. According to kiwicommons.com, “Self-diagnosis can easily spiral into over-diagnosis, or wrong or late diagnosis. Self-diagnosis is often prone to error, and this is usually because of one simple reason: neither you nor your computer is a trained physician.” Even though it’s not as convenient as going online, going to the doctor or at least calling her up is obviously worth it!

Use your phone:

On that note, you don’t have to make an appointment to get information from your doctor. You can always call her afterwards if you have a question that you forgot to ask during your appointment. “Even if you don’t have a question, you can always call. If you’re thinking back to what your doctor said, and you realize you don’t understand, don’t hesitate to call the office,” Georgiadis said. Even if you can’t get a hold of your doctor directly, you can always call the office, and see if you can speak to your doctor. Speaking to another practitioner or nurse in the office may be possible as well. Georgiadis said, “A family doctor may not always be able to get back to you, but a nurse or someone in the office will certainly return your call and answer your questions.” Chances are, someone there will be able to answer any questions you have, so don’t hesitate to pick up the phone. Just because you only go for an annual check-up doesn’t mean your doctor isn’t there for you the other 364 days of the year too.

Branch out:

Get someone else’s opinion! You might get a different diagnosis from one doctor than you would from another. So ask around. Get as many opinions as you can before you make serious decisions related to your health. “Everybody knows their own body,” Dinnin says, “you know when something is wrong. Even if tests are coming back as normal and the doctor says everything is okay, but you still don’t feel like things are right, then go see a second or third doctor until you’re satisfied.” You know your body better than anyone else, so listen to it! Medication might also be more affordable at other locations. Georgiadis said, “It almost never matters what medication you use. The generic brand will work just as well as the brand name medications, and it doesn’t cost you as much.” You can always opt to buy the generic kind. It will still do the trick, and it won’t take as much weight off of your wallet.


Even though you might think that you have a rare and incurable disease after consulting WebMD, chances are, you don’t. So take a few deep breaths, sit back and relax. Remember that your doctor is trained in this field. They’ve practiced medicine for years. Things you find gross or weird or scary probably won’t even faze them. And it’s probably nothing they’ve never seen before. Stop hyperventilating. You’re more than likely going to survive.

Be honest:

Tell your doctor everything. There’s no way for them to help you unless you stick to full disclosure. Remember that one time you had a small, shooting pain there? Yeah, tell him. Even if you think it doesn’t matter. It does. It’s crucial to make sure your doctor is aware of everything that is going on with your body. He’s there to help and the only way for him to do that is to keep him in the know. Better to give your doctor info she doesn’t need than to not give her info she does. Your doctor—whether it’s your family doctor, your gynecologist or the doctor at your college’s health center—is there to help. She’s an awesome resource to have, and you should take full advantage of it. Don’t be afraid to ask for the information you need in order to be healthy. Staying healthy can be tricky, so ask away, sister! Sources Dr. Mark Georgiadis, Clinical Associate Professor of Medicine, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine ([email protected]) Kiwicommons.com Lisa Dinnin, Medical Assistant, Pittsburgh, PA

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Gabriela Szewcow is a freshman Print and Online Journalism major at Elon University in North Carolina. She is originally from Pittsburgh, PA. She is the Design Chief of Elon University’s award-winning newspaper, The Pendulum. She is also a designer for Elon’s yearbook and has a weekly radio show. She is a Spanish minor and hopes to study abroad in Spain sometime during her next three years at Elon. Some of her favorite things include York Peppermint Patties, Jane Austen novels, anything involving Hello Kitty and The Morning Benders. She hopes to someday be a page designer for a newspaper or magazine.
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