In a previous article with Allegheny Health Network (AHN) obstetrician and gynecologist Dr. Sonia Aneja, we looked at tips for choosing an OB-GYN, including the importance of trusting their qualifications and their ability to listen and communicate with you. Those aspects of trust are especially important as medicine continues to move toward more of a shared decision-making model.

“I work hard to make sure my patients are heard — and then to explain the options in a way that makes them feel partnered in decisions,” Dr. Aneja says. “I want them to have agency, but I’m also using my expertise to guide them away from anything that could be unsafe or ineffective. I keep us focused on choices that are supported by the data and studies that have been done about the effectiveness of certain therapies for certain conditions.”

As a patient, you’ll get the most value out of this partnered approach if you’re more actively engaged in your health care, including feeling comfortable sharing information with your OB-GYN. Beyond the basics like your annual OB-GYN exam and contraception, remember that your OB-GYN is a great resource for answering a range of women’s health questions. Some women’s health issues can feel awkward or difficult, but remember, your OB-GYN has plenty of experience with these issues and wants to help. Here are a few areas to think about as part of getting the most out of your OB-GYN relationship.

Your Guide Through Pregnancy — and Beyond

If you are pregnant, or planning to get pregnant, your OB/GYN is your first contact for just about everything you’ll want to know or need, including recommendations for other specialists if necessary.

Are there any potential risks from the contraception I was on? What do we do if we have fertility concerns? What are my labor options? Is what I’m experiencing during pregnancy “normal”? There are many questions that come up during pregnancy, and you’ll feel better about the entire journey if you have an OB-GYN you can depend on for answers. After you’ve given birth, your OB-GYN may also be able to help with a recommendation for a pediatric doctor.

Pregancy

See Something, Say Something

During your annual gynecological exam, your OB-GYN is going to check all the basics. But don’t forget that this is also a good opportunity to ask questions about anything you’ve been experiencing or concerned about. Irregular periods? Abdominal discomfort? Something that may or may not be a side effect of your birth control method? Whatever it is, take advantage of your doctor’s expertise to get an answer or find out if it’s something they want to look at more closely.

Outside your in-person visit, many doctors now also offer virtual visit or online messaging capabilities, such as those offered with AHN MyChart. Regardless, if you forget to ask something during your visit, or something comes up between visits, reach out and get reliable information from a source you trust.

History Lessons

It’s important for both you and your OB-GYN to understand your health history. Previous health conditions, treatments, and even past concerns or tendencies could all be important to consider when making decisions about your health.

For example, in our article with Dr. Aneja about birth control and depression, she explained that if a woman has a history of mental health disorders, it becomes especially important to discuss the potential for high doses of progesterone to increase the risk of depression and to explore other forms of contraception. Another example would be a woman with a family history of ovarian cancer — which might impact recommendations for screenings or genetic testing. The more comfortable you are sharing your medical history — as well as being honest about current lifestyle choices — the better your OB-GYN can help you.

“I was wondering about this article I saw…”

A middle-aged female doctor consulting with a patient in her 20sThe Internet and social media provide access to an abundance of medical information. Unfortunately, much of that information is incomplete, out of context, or just plain wrong.

Pro tip: Facebook does not count as a peer-reviewed medical source. “Peer-reviewed” means that the research presented has been vetted by other specialists in the field for quality and validity. “An article published in a peer-reviewed journal is a more reputable source of information than a random website that comes up in an online search,” Dr. Aneja says, but adds that “even a peer-reviewed article isn’t the be-all and end-all when it comes to a given issue.”

Your OB-GYN can help you steer clear of misleading or sensationalized claims, better understand new studies and treatments, and think critically about how to apply information toward improving your health. It may be okay to ask “Dr. Google” about some women’s health issues, but for anything important always get a second opinion from your OB-GYN.

“The word ‘doctor’ comes from the Latin word for ‘teacher,’” Dr. Aneja points out. “There’s a push for doctors to become more consumer-friendly and service-oriented, which is fine if we’re talking about listening and being sensitive and compassionate. But I think our value as doctors has more to do with being good educators for patients than being consumer service providers.”