Your healthcare needs
Women’s healthcare needs change a great deal at different stages of their lives. You may require a number of different doctors for your needs. You may even see multiple doctors for primary care. Alternately, you may see a doctor for gynecologic care and not for other needs.
It’s a good idea to prepare questions about your health needs when you visit your doctor. The questions you should ask will depend on the type of care you’re going to receive.
A primary care provider (PCP) is the main doctor many women see. PCPs are often either family medicine doctors or internal medicine doctors. They treat common illnesses such as colds and minor infections. They also manage chronic diseases such as diabetes, asthma, and high blood pressure. They serve as a home base for your medical care. Your PCP maintains all your health history in one place. Depending on their training, many primary care physicians can manage most health issues of women including gynecology. Many family medicine doctors practice both gynecology and obstetrics.
With certain types of insurance, a referral from your PCP is necessary to see a specialist.
Questions to ask your primary care physician
Questions you might ask your PCP include the following:
- What can I do to improve my overall health?
- Are there health problems in my family that put me at risk?
- Am I at high risk for any chronic diseases?
- What screening tests do I need this year?
- What tests will I need next year?
- Should I get a flu shot or other vaccination?
- Are antibiotics necessary to treat this infection?
A gynecologist is a doctor specializing in the female reproductive organs. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends that young women make their first visit for reproductive health between the ages of 13 and 15. Women may visit yearly, or as needed, after that.
Your gynecologist may perform a Pap smear or pelvic exam, as well as any other tests you need. Young women don’t need a Pap smear until the age of 21. The first visit for reproductive health is often to assess your overall health and answer questions about your changing body. Depending on your gynecologist’s training, they may be comfortable being your PCP as well.
Questions to ask your gynecologist
Questions you might ask your gynecologist include:
- How often do I need a Pap smear?
- How often do I need a pelvic exam?
- What type of birth control might work best for me?
- What screenings should I get for sexually transmitted infections?
- I have severe pain during my period. Can you help?
- I’ve started spotting between periods. What does that mean?
An obstetrician is a doctor specializing in pregnancy and childbirth. Most obstetricians are also gynecologists. Some obstetricians only provide medical care for women who are pregnant.
Your obstetrician will guide you through the entire process of pregnancy. They’ll also help you manage any pregnancy complications.
Questions to ask your obstetrician
Some questions you might consider asking your obstetrician include the following:
- When should I start taking prenatal vitamins?
- How often do I need prenatal care?
- Am I having a high-risk pregnancy?
- How much weight should I gain during pregnancy?
- What shouldn’t I eat during pregnancy?
- Should I schedule my labor?
- Should I have a vaginal birth or a cesarean delivery?
- Can I have a vaginal birth after a cesarean delivery?
- Should I consider using a birthing center for my delivery?
A dermatologist is a doctor who specializes in treating skin conditions. Dermatologists also treat conditions relating to hair and nails. A dermatologist can help women manage conditions like:
- skin changes related to aging
Your dermatologist can also conduct a full-body skin check for moles. They’ll do this to identify the early warning signs of melanoma.
Questions to ask your dermatologist
Questions you might ask your dermatologist include:
- What changes should I look for in my skin?
- What is the best way to protect my skin from sun damage?
- Are there any moles I should be concerned about?
- I frequently get skin rashes. How can I stop them?
- My skin is dry. Can that be helped?
- How often do I need to get a mole checked?
- What is the best treatment for my skin condition?
An ophthalmologist is a doctor of medicine, or M.D., who specializes in the treatment of eyes and related structures. Ophthalmologists treat serious eye conditions that require surgery. You may also see an ophthalmologist for regular eye exams and prescription lenses.
An optometrist is a healthcare professional trained to deliver eye and vision care. Optometrists have a doctor of optometry, or O.D., degree instead of an M.D. degree. Optometrists generally act as your primary doctor for eye care. You may visit one annually to get your vision checked. Most of the time, an optometrist will be the one to prescribe any corrective eyewear you may need.
Questions to ask your eye specialist
Questions you might ask an eye specialist include the following:
- How often do I need my vision screened?
- Should I be tested for glaucoma?
- What eye symptoms should I be concerned about?
- I have floaters in my eyes. Is that dangerous?
- Is there any way I can protect my eyes from damage?
- Do I need bifocals?
Dentists take care of your teeth and provide any oral healthcare you need. Good oral health plays an important role in your overall health. You should visit your dentist for a cleaning and dental checkup every six months.
Questions to ask your dentist
Questions you might ask your dentist include the following:
- Should I be getting cleanings more often?
- What can I do to improve my dental health?
- Do you screen patients for oral cancer or oral HPV?
- Should I get screened for oral cancer?
- Should I use teeth whiteners?
- Is there any way to get protection from cavities?
Your healthcare team is there to support you through the stages of your life and to help you live a healthy life. Be sure to ask questions and use the resources your doctors provide to make health decisions that benefit you in both the short and long term.