Top 10 things your family doctor wishes you would stop doing

Amanda Jerome
·Features Contributor
Now Sarah, you have to stop eating Pop Rocks for dinner. (Thinkstock)
Now Sarah, you have to stop eating Pop Rocks for dinner. (Thinkstock)

Is there anything more important than your health? Your family doctor would argue there isn’t, but despite this well-known truism, many healthcare providers find their patients don’t take their own health as seriously as they should. We talked to a team of doctors at Discovery Family Health to find out what they wished patients would stop doing.

1. Putting off booking preventative screening tests.
When was the last time you had a pap test? Can’t remember? That’s a problem. Preventative screening tests are put in place to protect your health, but your family doctor can’t help you if you’re not coming in for your tests when you should. “By now most people should know the screening guidelines for things like breast cancer, cervical cancer, colon cancer,” says Dr. Alan Monavvari, a General Practitioner (GP) at Discovery Family Health. “It shouldn’t be an excuse these days to say ‘well, I didn’t do my pap test’ or ‘I didn’t go for a colonoscopy or do one of those stool kits.’ People should really put their health as a priority and at least see their primary care physician on a regular basis to ensure they’re up to date.” Screening tests vary depending on age, so check The Canadian Task Force on Preventative Health Care Guidelines to see what tests you should be getting and when.

2. Not booking regular appointments.
Appointments with your family doctor should focus on one or two issues at a time, not every ache and pain you can think of. “Please don’t book one appointment rarely, like once a year, and then expect all your problems for the whole year to be solved in one visit because that’s impossible,” says Dr. Angie Hong, a GP at Discovery Family Health. Dr. Hong also advises patients bring up their most serious concerns at the beginning of each appointment. “Please don’t finish your whole visit about something and then tell me at the end that you’ve had chest pain because that’s probably more worrisome than the runny nose you’ve had.”

3. Watching more than two hours of TV a day.
A sedentary lifestyle is a major contributor for health issues such as obesity and diabetes. “There are studies that show people that watch TV more than two hours a day will have somewhere between 5-10 year shorter lives,” says Dr. Monavvari citing Dr. Mike Evan’s popular web video 23 and ½ Hours as an excellent example of how being a couch potato can be detrimental to your health. Your family doctor wants you to be in the best shape possible for as long as possible, so skip that ‘Seinfeld’ re-run and go for a walk in the park instead.

4. Self-diagnosing using the Internet.
If you have a health concern turn to your family doctor and not Dr. Internet. “Please don’t Google your symptoms because undoubtedly you will then think you have cancer or the most rare neurological disease or some tropical illness, please just come ask your physician,” says Dr. Hong. Looking up your symptoms online will give you anxiety and may point you in the wrong direction when it comes to your health. “If you’re looking for self-management tools or educational materials, ask your family doctor to give you a trustworthy site to look at,” suggests Dr. Monavvari.

5. Not taking responsibility for your medical care.
You are in charge of your health and personal care. Take note of your doctor’s instructions on when to book follow-up appointments and follow through. “If your physician asks you to follow-up and come back so they can see how you’re doing please do that,” stresses Dr. Hong. “A physician sees hundreds of patients and can’t remember to call you personally to remind you to come back about something. Take personal responsibility for your own health and please don’t expect or ask the physician to be the steward of your health.”

6.Smoking — ALL smoking.
It sounds old fashioned to say quit smoking — because, really, who doesn’t know that cigarettes are bad for you? — but when a doctor asks you to quit smoking they mean drugs too. “Maybe what is more relevant these days is smoking marijuana,” says Dr. Monavvari. “Especially younger people, somehow they have this misunderstanding that smoking pot is not as bad as smoking cigarettes. Not only is it still smoke, but when you smoke that burning inside can cause all kinds of cancers. Marijuana has also demonstrated that use of it in youth could potentially interfere with the brain development.”

7. Being a workaholic.
“We are all over-worked, overstressed, and the mental health factor is becoming an epidemic in Canadian societies,” says Dr. Monavvari. “Over 50 per cent of patients I see in a day have a mental health problem and one of the many causes of those mental health issues is stress at work.” Dr. Monavvari suggests cutting down on cell phone use and stop answering work emails outside of work hours. “It sounds crazy, but that’s what’s contributing to mental health problems because now you’re working 19 hours instead of the regular 8 hours and then there’s no boundaries any more between your personal life and your professional life and it becomes all work,” he says about about how cell phones lengthen the work day and contribute to stress. When the work day is done, put the phone away and focus on your well-being.

8. Not getting enough sleep.
“Fatigue is one of the main complaints we get and obviously there can be chemical reasons for that so we check for iron, we check for B12, we check for thyroid, but a lot of it plays into mood and sleep disturbance,” says Dr. Matthew MacLeod, a GP at Discovery Family Health. “There’s a whole thing around sleep hygiene that we go through; that’s things around minimizing distractions around bed time. The bedroom itself should be a place that is just associated with sleep or sex. You’re not watching TV in the bed and you’re not doing things that will activate the mind for an hour to half an hour before bed.” Dr. MacLeod finds that getting into bed is the first moment of relaxation in the day for a lot of patients and they have trouble getting to sleep because their mind is busy reflecting on the day’s events. He suggests finding other times during the day to self reflect can help clear the mind for sleep. He also says that a cooler environment can help when you’re trying to fall asleep as well as cutting down on caffeine and adding exercise to your daily routine.

9. Eating junk food.
Pop, fast food, and frozen dinners laden with salt are terrible for your health and your doctor wishes you would put down that cheeseburger and pick up a banana instead. “Fast food, eating junk, those give a gain to your brain because most of them are carbs and the brain likes carbs,” says Dr. Monavvari. “You satisfy your brain immediately with the carbs and give the gain to the brain and what happens with the carbs is they burn too quickly and then you become even more hungry and then you gain weight and it’s a vicious cycle. Instead snack on healthy foods, such as vegetables and fruits. They don’t give the same gain to the brain like some of the carbs, but at least they’re healthier. You could have toast and low fat cheese and that will keep you longer than eating cookies.”

10. Not having a family doctor.
Having a family doctor who knows your history is a huge asset when managing your own health. “Don’t go to a walk-in for a problem that you’ve had that’s a chronic problem,” says Dr. Hong. “I’ve been working at a walk-in clinic as a doctor and people come in and say I’ve had two months of this history and they want you to figure it out in the five minute walk-in appointment. Try and find a family doctor so you’re not always going to a walk-in clinic where you’re always seeing a different doctor every time.”