Take this appointment - once a year - as recommended
While your primary care provider will likely schedule an appointment for when you need to come in once a year – you may find it easier to tie it to a certain time of year with meaning for you. The month of your birthday might be part of your personal commitment to your health, making sure that you go into your next year with your physical health maintained.
Maybe you think that the best time to get your physical is after the kids head back to school after Labor Day weekend, or maybe it’s the slower time after the holidays in January and February – or maybe you want to set a broader time frame, like between the holidays and spring break. It doesn’t matter when, just as long as you remember to do it.
Annual Physicals Matter
Sentara Medical Group internist Dr. Tara Khoshnaw tells us why.
“I encourage my patients to come in for a physical every year, because in a lot of patients we find things they aren’t aware of,” she said. “Not every condition has a symptom. A physical is a good way to stay on top of changes in your blood pressure, cholesterol, weight, blood sugar or vitamin D levels.”
Dr. Khoshnaw said that increases in blood pressure is a common change from year to year and a dangerous one because it often has no symptoms and can progress to complications quickly.
In just one year, something that was normal, might have shifted. It might be one of your vital signs, like your weight or your blood pressure, or it might be a more obvious change in your skin, your heart rate or your bloodwork.
Screenings Can Catch Problems Early
Another reason to mark your calendar for your physical each year is to screen for age and gender appropriate risk factors. It might be time for a breast exam, a Pap smear, a cancer screening, or a colonoscopy. The "Welcome to Medicare" exam at age 65 is very comprehensive, and offers the chance for a thorough check up of your health.
It’s not just for the doctor to review you – it’s also your chance to update the doctor and ask questions.
Keeping a regular eye on your health means that you can ask the small questions that don’t seem worthy of their own appointments, like changes in your skin, your eyes, your weight or your hearing. Collect your questions in a notebook and take them in for annual exams – this is a helpful check in tool for your doctor to know what you’ve noticed.
“Patients should be asking about health changes and their body mMass index (BMI) and where their weight should be. They should be asking about screenings or vaccinations they need at this age,” Khoshnaw said. “But also, we want to hear about anything that’s causing you an issue. Life changes, adjustments, depression or anxiety, grief or any new health risks. We’re here to help.”
Here are a few tips:
- Commit to finding a primary care doctor you like and feel comfortable with
- Find a month of the year that works for you and try to stick with it
- Take notes about your health all year round
- Use accountability with someone else and your doctor to make sure you keep your visit
- Work on healthy habits throughout the year
- Keep up on screenings and vaccinations appropriate for your age and health history, including mammograms for breast cancer screening
- If you need help with your everyday health, turn to your primary care provider first.