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Why Annual Checkups are Now Wellness Checkups

November 28, 2016

Americans don’t like visiting the doctor. According to The Commonwealth Fund, we only visit the doctor four times a year. This supports previous Census data that indicates Americans are seeing a physician less frequently year-over-year.

In light of these figures, annual visits become even more important. Some doctors are advocating that these visits become wellness visits, which include a thorough review of a patient’s medical history and lifestyle as well as preventative screenings.

Annual Checkups Becoming More Important for Patients

Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center recently issued a news release supporting this position. Dr. Bill Curry, a family medicine physician at the hospital, says annual checkups are undergoing a transformation. Quick exams, a short conversation with your doctor and some blood work are now slowly being replaced by an extended conversation between patients and doctors, a complete review of a patient’s family history and lifestyle, a check of vital signs and creating a schedule for preventative screenings and immunizations.

Annual visits differ at every stage of life. Infants get wellness checkups more regularly, while children get regular physical exams and vaccines before the beginning of every school year. People in their 40s and 50s should begin to get regular screenings for breast and colorectal cancers, while women should schedule an annual well-woman visit with their doctor, which may include a yearly mammogram, oral cavity exam and other preventative screenings. Starting at age 65, seniors should see a doctor every year and undergo regular screenings to check their blood pressure and cholesterol and for conditions such as diabetes, lung, prostate and colon cancer.

How to Prepare for Your Annual Visit

It’s critical for patients to be proactive about their health, and this means not only scheduling an annual visit but also being thoroughly prepared for it. Depending on your stage of life, physicians will allot a different amount of time for your checkup– some as little as 10 minutes! It is important to come as prepared as possible. You should also ask ahead if your physician will need to do any lab work that will require fasting.

You must know your history. Start by talking to immediate family members (parents, grandparents and siblings) to collect a family medical history. Also make note of any over-the-counter medications or prescriptions you take, make a list of any health issues you’ve recently experienced. You also might ask close family or friends if they’ve noticed any physical changes in you, such as walking slower or facial droops. It’s also a good idea to make a list of the issues you want to discuss with your doctor, inform your doctor of any other physicians you may now be seeing, let him or her know of any things that have changed since your last visit — however minor they may be, because together these things may point to something larger.

As doctors, we want to help but we can only do this if we’re armed with the right information. It’s common for patients to want to keep some things private. However, we want to be partners in your health, so we need to know what health conditions you may be facing and how certain lifestyle factors, such as smoking, drinking and sexual activity, may impact your overall health and wellness. Check out one of my previous blogs, How To Prepare for Your Physician Visit, to learn more about the sort of information we need in order to help you best. Don't be afraid to open up and answer your physician's questions honestly. We’re asking for a reason, and it's critical we know all the details. This way, we can give you the best medical care possible — during your annual visit and beyond.