Q: I don’t have a primary-care physician and have been skittish ever since I’ve been a child about going to the doctor. How can I overcome my fear?

A: People have different reasons for their fear of the doctor, the most common being that they are afraid to hear bad news. In fact, there is actually a medical name for fear of doctors: iatrophobia. Some anxiety is normal for anyone visiting their doctor, and only a behavioral-health professional can determine if you suffer from the phobia.

For many patients, the anxiety associated with seeing their doctor raises their blood pressure, while it is otherwise normal. We call this white-coat syndrome. The good news is that you can tell your doctor ahead of time about your fears, and that anxiety and most medical phobias respond well to medication, counseling, and just speaking with your doctor about your fears.

Remember, preventive medicine is a key component to maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Developing an ongoing relationship with your healthcare provider, who knows you and your medical history, leads to a better overall outcome and lower costs. And not seeing your doctor regularly can put you at risk for ill health and complicated medical procedures that you could have possibly avoided by seeking care earlier when they were easier to treat.

Q: If I’m in good health, is there still a need to see my doctor?

A: Many people, especially those in good health, often believe they don’t need a primary-care provider. However, the relationship you build with your primary-care provider now ensures that you will have a medical professional who is familiar with your medical history later, when problems do come up. Your primary-care provider will partner with you to help you lead a healthier life through regular checkups, proper diet, exercise, and medical advice. He or she will work with you to manage any chronic medical conditions and address small health issues before they become large ones.

Q: How often should I see my doctor?

A: This varies based on each individual patient’s medical needs and diagnoses. If you are a relatively healthy person, you may need to be seen only once a year for your preventive health screening. If you are someone who has more medical issues, you many need to be seen more frequently and sometimes every month. Your doctor can help you determine how frequently you need to be seen.

Q: What services should a primary-care physician offer?

A: Your physician will offer evaluation and treatment of acute and chronic illnesses, annual well checkups, disease prevention, immunizations, health maintenance, patient education and preventive medicine, and pre-operative consultation.

Q: What tips can you share that will help me and other family members to stay healthy this year?

A: To help you and others in your family stay healthy this winter and throughout the year, consider the following tips from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force:

• Wash your hands. It’s the most effective way to ward off the spread of most viral diseases. Carry a bottle of hand sanitizer for when you can’t wash your hands.

• Get a flu shot. Everyone six months and older should get a flu vaccine yearly. New vaccines are released yearly to keep up with rapidly adapting flu viruses.

• Eat healthy. It can be tempting, especially in the cold months, to fill up on unhealthy comfort food, but it’s important that you keep your diet healthy by including five portions of fruit and vegetables a day.

• Drink up. Drinking plenty of fluids is important when you are ill, and every day for preventing illness. Adequate hydration keeps the tissues of the respiratory system moist, which prevents microbes from settling in. Water is best.

• Exercise. Regular exercise has been proven to boost your immune system and make you feel more energetic. It also reduces the production of stress hormones such as cortisol. One study showed that men with higher levels of activity experienced a 35{06cf2b9696b159f874511d23dbc893eb1ac83014175ed30550cfff22781411e5} reduction in number of colds, and women a 20{06cf2b9696b159f874511d23dbc893eb1ac83014175ed30550cfff22781411e5} reduction.

• Get enough sleep. This is vital. Lack of sleep can contribute to health problems such as high blood pressure, weight gain, and a decrease in your immune system’s power to fight off illness.

• Don’t smoke. Studies show that smokers have more frequent and severe colds. Second-hand smoke also makes people more susceptible to respiratory illnesses. Talk to your primary-care provider if you smoke, to help you quit. Get the support of family and friends to help you succeed.

Q: How can I stick to any healthy New Year’s resolutions that I make in the days ahead, despite the fact that we have already entered 2017?

A: It’s never too late to adopt a healthy lifestyle. While weight loss, health screenings, and stress reduction are among some of the best ways to achieve and maintain better health, creating a plan that is manageable is the key to success. I encourage my patients to look at the New Year as a time to set small, attainable goals that they can maintain throughout the year, leading to long-term success and better health. Whether you want to lose weight, quit smoking, or reduce stress, your healthcare provider can suggest additional resources such as support groups, reading material, or, if appropriate, medications or other aids that can help. Getting advice from your primary-care provider and support from friends and family is a great way to keep your New Year’s health resolutions going all year long.

Q: What’s the best way to find a primary-care physician who I can feel comfortable with?

A: In general, ask your friends, colleagues, and family who they have for a primary-care doctor. Ask them if they feel like they can talk with them openly about their medical questions and concerns. This usually is a good place to start to determine if you will feel comfortable with them as well. You can also reach out to your local hospital system, such as Baystate, to review who is accepting new patients.

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