How Annual Checkups are Changing
Do You Really Need to Visit Your Doctor Once a Year?
It’s a yearly rite of passage: somewhere around your birthday, you schedule an annual checkup with your doctor. Nearly one in five Americans practice this tried-and-true tradition because it’s the foundation of good health.
But is it really necessary?
“That’s a really good question, and one that we hear pretty frequently,” said Brad Sevy, DO, a Primary Care Physician at Adena. “As a general rule, I tell most patients if you’re 40 and up, you should have the annual physical. If nothing else, it allows us to touch base and make sure there’s nothing new that’s popped up.”
The benefits of an annual checkup
We all know the overall benefits of a yearly checkup and physical. It can help you stay on top of screenings, vaccines and your long-term health. It can also:
- Establish a baseline for your health, such as your weight, vital signs and blood pressure.
- Encourage you to live a healthy lifestyle.
- Help catch a potential health issue early.
For women, an annual checkup could include a pelvic exam or Pap test to look for genealogical issues and signs of cervical cancer or HPV. For men, your doctor may check for signs of prostate cancer, testicular cancer or hernia.
How much is too much?
Most people should only need a test or screening if they have symptoms or risks factors. Too many tests can cause a false-positive result. These false alarms can cause anxiety, and unnecessary follow-up tests and treatments. Then there’s the fear of only finding something if you go looking for it.
“Some folks are concerned that the more you look, the more you find,” Dr. Sevy said. “But most family medicine doctors follow the United States Preventative Services Task Force (USPSTF), who put out guidelines on frequency of screening and how much testing to do so you’re never putting patients through more testing than is necessary.”
Health care is changing
Lately, health care professionals are questioning if there are better ways to keep you healthy than a yearly ‘open up and say ahh’ appointment. Can a poke here, a prod there, a couple of tubes of blood and a pat on the back about your diet and exercise really keep you healthy?
The question is: do annual checkups keep you healthy, or are you already healthy?
According to a recent study by the New England Journal of Medicine, there are three ways to shift our focus from yearly health check-ins to lifelong health and wellness:
- Relationship building - The doctor-patient relationship is an important part of your overall care. That’s why the emphasis of a visit with your doctor could change to be more about your medical and social history, and less about tests and lab work. Instead of an annual physical, use your time more as a wellness visit.
- More proactive preventive care - Providers and patients need to find ways to play a more active role in preventive care. If doctors can engage their patients with online risk assessments and reviewing preventive care outside of the office, an annual checkup wouldn’t be necessary because you and your doctor are checking in on your health on a more regular basis.
Know what works for you
If you’re in your 20s and 30s, a yearly visit to your doctor may not always be necessary. But, if it’s been a while since you had blood work, it’s always a good idea to check in and make sure everything is in good working order. When in doubt, always listen to your body. If something doesn’t feel right, get it checked out.
“These visits are really to gauge risk, so we can provide a more tailored approach to your care,” Dr. Sevy said. “Our goal is to keep you healthy and catch up on any health conditions that may have gone off track in the last year or so and correct that as soon as possible.”