Men's health Sunnybrook Academic Family Health Team Wellness Women's health

5 (+1) ways to talk to your family doctor

Written by Alexis Dobranowski

Have you seen your family doctor for your annual physical exam this year?

Before you panic (or call your grown children and start nagging, Mom), wait – the yearly check-up for your family doctor to bang your knees with her little hammer or listen to your breathing has kind of gone out the window.

According to Dr. Sharon Domb, Division Head of Sunnybrook’s Academic Family Health Team, research suggests that annual physical visits aren’t exactly necessary or effective at catching disease early or preventing chronic health issues.

But you aren’t off the hook.

“You should still visit your family doctor at least once a year – but the focus for family physicians has shifted toward prevention,” Dr. Domb says.

Here are some tips from Dr. Domb to help you communicate with your doctor on your next annual preventative visit.

Ask ‘Is my screening up-to-date?’

Your doctor will likely ask you this and have access to your records. But you can still start the discussion. For example, sexually active women over age 21 should be having a Pap test every three years. There are other guidelines for cancer screenings. Check Cancer Care Ontario  for more information.

Share your family history.

Your doctor likely took a family history when you had your first appointment (which may have been years ago!) and so things change. Changes in your family members’ health could have an impact on your health. “So, you are 40 years old. You normally wouldn’t have any screening for colon cancer yet,” Dr. Domb says. “But, let’s say your father or sibling has just been diagnosed with colon cancer – those screening recommendations change and so it’s important for your doctor to have all the information.”

Learn more about immunizations.

Your doctor will offer you the standard immunizations but there are also new or optional immunizations (not covered by OHIP) that may be recommended by physicians. For example, the shingles vaccine has been approved and recommended for adults over age 50. (And may soon be funded according to the provincial budget).

Ask your doctor about the latest vaccines that may be recommended for your age or your children.

‘Is there something I can do to my lifestyle to reduce my risk of chronic disease?’

Maybe it’s your weight. Could be your diet. Maybe you have difficulty finding the time or energy to exercise. Talk to your doctor about how to prevent illness. “Do you smoke? Be honest with your doctor. We can give you support to help you quit,” Dr. Domb says.

Ask about Advance Care Planning.

Do your loved ones know your values and wishes in the event of a devastating illness or accident leaves you unable to speak for yourself? Is now a good time to start having those discussions? Your family doctor can help you get advance care planning discussions started. (Visit for more information)

Remember: Secrets, secrets are no fun. All they do is hurt someone.

When it comes to your health, secrets can hurt you!

Firstly, at your annual visit or during any visit, be open and honest about other remedies you are taking. “It’s generally believed anything ‘natural’ or ‘homeopathic’ is unharmful and therefore, patients often don’t mention them to me,” Dr. Domb says. The truth is, these other remedies can have interactions with prescribed medications. So, share the list with your doctor.

Secondly, tell your doctor about stress and weight changes. “Patients come to me saying, ‘I need to be off work for six months, I can’t handle the stress,’ and when I ask how long it’s been going on they say a year,” Dr. Domb says. “If only they’d have come to me sooner.” Your family doctor can support you before it gets to the point that you are at the end of your rope. A similar situation often occurs with weight changes – if you gain or lose a significant amount of weight, talk to your doctor.

Sounds like communication is key when it comes to your annual check-in with your doctor. (Don’t worry Mom, I’ll give my doctor a call!)

If you don’t have a family doctor, visit Health Care Connect.


[toggle title=”Click here to view a plain-text version of the infographic”]

Seeing your family doctor?

At your annual check-up, ask or tell your doctor about:

  • Screening and immunizations
  • Family history
  • Lifestyle
  • Advance Care Plan

Secrets can be bad for your health. Talk to your doctor about your

  • remedies and supplements
  • Weight gain or loss
  • Stress level

A version of this post appears in the Town Crier newspaper in Toronto, Ontario.


About the author


Alexis Dobranowski

Alexis Dobranowski is a Communications Advisor at Sunnybrook.