No matter what you call it—well-child check, women’s wellness exam or annual physical—it’s almost universally understood that we’re supposed to go see our doctors every year, even when we’re not sick. While annual checkups are the recommendation, we wanted to dig a little deeper to find out exactly why these exams are so important.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) explains that regular health examinations and testing are vital because they can catch potential issues before they become problematic. A physician who sees a patient on a regular basis can keep an eye on any fluctuations in the person’s health and recommend any necessary medication, treatments or lifestyle changes to ensure a healthier, longer life.
Jimmy Baugh II, M.D., family medicine physician at Texas Health Family Care - Richardson, a Texas Health Physicians Group practice, expands on the idea of disease prevention and establishing the patient/physician relationship.
“I recommend all patients come in for an annual wellness visit, which was previously referred to as a physical exam, as it gives us time to get to know each other and review important information and recommendations,” he says. “It allows us to focus on things that might be overlooked during acute/sick visits which can prevent and detect early onset of diseases such as diabetes, hypertension and cancer. It also provides time for discussion of dietary and lifestyle changes which are important for quality of life and prevention of cardiovascular disease.
“An annual appointment allows for a physical exam to document normal or chronic changes which can be referred to at follow-up visits. Early detection of chronic disease provides time to initiate treatment and change the course of the disease in order to prevent organ damage. Wellness visits also allow discussion and initiation of preventive care, such as vaccines and cancer screening.”
Annual physical exams aren’t “one size fits all,” as children, women, men and older adults have differing needs, which are addressed by each person’s physician, whether it’s a pediatrician, family medicine or internal medicine specialist, gynecologist or geriatrician.
Immunizations are a highly important part of annual visits. The CDC publishes recommendations for different age groups on their website, which can be viewed here:
Additionally, the following screeningsests may be important for male or female adults:
- Blood pressure
- Breast and cervical cancer screening
- Colorectal cancer screening
- Prostate cancer screening
- Skin cancer
- Viral hepatitis
- Bone density
- Oral health
It’s important to keep your doctor up to date on any changes in family health history, lifestyle or other aspects of your health, including new or different issues with pain, menstrual cycles, skin issues, etc. You may also want to write down anything you’d like to discuss with your doctor or questions you’d like to ask so you don’t forget.
Baugh says that while he encourages annual visits for all patients, he often hears the same excuses for why people don’t come in as often as they should.
“The most common reasons for not scheduling annual wellness visits are time, lack of insurance, and money,” he explains. “Fortunately, most insurance companies cover annual wellness visits without requiring a copay.”
If you’re the type to put off seeing the doctor until you feel like death warmed over, Baugh says it’s best to get in the habit during your younger years, but never too late to start.
“Annual wellness visits are important for all ages, but are even more important as we age and develop chronic medical conditions that occupy most of the time at other visits,” he says. “I recommend annual wellness visits for all my patients. Men can usually get by with visits every year to two years through their 20s but should be seen annually after age 30.
“It is important to review personal and family history annually and implement early cancer screening if needed at that point but is absolutely necessary by age 40. Patients who have deferred being seen for their annual exam should not worry if they are over age 40, however, as it is never too late to get started.”
Baugh says he’s seen his patients benefit from regular visits, ranging from illness prevention due to immunizations all the way to detecting cancer.
“Thanks to annual wellness visits, I have had the opportunity to help patients make lifestyle changes that have prevented diabetes and early cardiovascular disease,” he says. “I have also been able to provide patients with vaccines including flu and pneumonia that could have caused missed work and hospitalizations. Annual visits have helped my patients detect early-onset breast and colon cancer, which allowed for less invasive treatment and saved their lives. By coming in for an annual exam, we were able to provide appropriate screening which could have been overlooked at sick visits.”
Schedule your annual visit with a primary care physician through our ‘Find-a-Physician‘ tool. Simply choose the specialty, type in your ZIP code and select a range. Once a list of physicians appears, you can click on a physician and access contact information, education background and a list of insurance plans the doctor accepts.