One of the best steps you can take to keep yourself healthy is to keep up with preventative doctors' visits. This includes regular checkups and annual exams, which are often the best way to spot early warning signs of developing health issues.
Despite the importance of preventative care, data from 2020 suggests that more people than usual have been skipping routine visits due to not only concerns over the Covid19 pandemic, but also issues like health insurance and costs. This trend seems to be impacting people of all ages — including older adults who typically make more annual healthcare visits, as well as children who are in need of scheduled vaccines.
According to a 2020 national survey released by the Alliance of Community Health Plans, only about 30% of U.S. adults felt comfortable making in-person doctor visits during Covid19, and an estimated 72% have dramatically changed how they use traditional health care services.
Most experts agree it’s best to still visit a provider, especially as most offices have adopted safety procedures and also now offer telehealth appointments, which can be useful for determining whether an in-person appointment is warranted (potentially saving both money and time).
There's even reason to believe that medical visits done over the internet can result in faster diagnoses and treatments. Plus, they're often more convenient for people living in rural areas and those who work unusual hours.
Whether in person or online, below are ten yearly healthcare appointments that are worth keeping in order to safeguard your overall health:
1. Primary Care Check-Up
Your primary healthcare provider can help to monitor key indicators of overall health, including your blood pressure, weight, breathing capabilities, and more.
If you have a history of any specific health complications, especially if you require prescription medications on an ongoing basis, it's recommended that you meet with your doctor yearly for a regular exam. Otherwise, healthy adults can stick with scheduling routine exams about every 2 years.
While routine exams are important for detecting early signs of underlying conditions, keep in mind that some symptoms should be evaluated right away. Visit the emergency room or your primary doctor ASAP if you experience difficulty breathing, chest or upper abdominal pains, sudden dizziness, weakness, changes in vision, difficulty speaking, or confusion.
2. Dental Cleaning
According to the American Dental Association, adults should receive a dental cleaning about every six months. However, most Americans wait between one and three years to make dental appointments.
Cleanings are important for preventing hardened plaque from forming on the teeth and for spotting early signs of gum disease before it progresses from gingivitis to periodontitis to advanced periodontitis.
Caring for your gums and teeth regularly can help prevent the need for interventions such as cavity fillings, tooth extractions, and even costly surgeries. Additionally, screening for signs of oral cancer (cancer in your throat, mouth, and on your tongue) is standard in most dental exams.
3. Dermatologist Screening
Because skin cancer can often go unnoticed in its early stages, full-body skin exams once per year are recommended for adults in order to identify suspicious spots or growths. Some derms recommend even more frequent exams if you are at a higher risk for skin cancer.
These exams typically take only about 10 to 20 minutes and can be life-saving in many instances. For example, a report published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute claims that full-body exams can decrease melanoma (skin cancer) mortality by up to 63 percent.
Of course, during a screening derms can also catch signs of other skin issues besides cancer, such as rashes, eczema, allergies, and more.
4. Cardiologist Visit
While your primary doctor may be able to monitor your cholesterol and high blood pressure, many adults are encouraged to visit a specialist if they have a family history of heart disease or a personal history of such issues.
Your cardiologist will want to keep an eye on your blood pressure, as abnormal BP is linked to serious illnesses like a higher risk for a heart attack and or stroke. Once detected, you can discuss how changes to diet, reducing stress, and medication may all be helpful.
It's generally recommended that adults get their cholesterol and blood pressure checked at least once per year. Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol is the type you especially want to monitor since too much of it in your bloodstream contributes to heart disease and the buildup of plaque in the arteries can lead to further issues, some of them fatal.
5. Testicular Exam
While testicular self-exams are encouraged beginning in a man's 20s, annual physicals to screen for testicular cancer are now recommended for most men, especially those who have a family history of testicular cancer.
Men with other ongoing concerns— such as urinary or reproductive issues, especially those that require consistent treatment or medications— may also need to see a urologist once or more a year. Even women with issues related to pelvic function or bladder control should schedule a urologist visit annually.
6. Gynecologist Exam
Opinions on the need for yearly pelvic exams among women has shifted in recent years; while these exams used to be recommended yearly for nearly all women, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists now encourages only women between 20 and 30 to have a pelvic exam with a pap smear once a year, mostly in order to test for indicators of human papillomavirus (HPV).
However, an annual pelvic exam referred to as a "Women's Wellness Exam" is still recommended for all women once yearly, especially those who are sexually active with more than one partner, to screen for sexually transmitted diseases, breast lumps, and signs of cervical cancer.
Gynecologists are also equipped to discuss other issues with their patients such as birth control, hormone therapy, and sexual function, often even more so than general providers.
7. Pediatrician Visits
Most babies need to see a doctor about 6 times during their first year, and then 1-2 times per year during childhood. But according to a 2020 New York Times article, "Afraid of Covid-19, parents are postponing well-child checkups, including shots, putting millions of children at risk of exposure to preventable deadly diseases."
Knowing that certain vaccine-preventable diseases can be more deadly to children than Covid-19, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics both urge parents to stick to vaccination schedules as rigorously as possible, particularly for the youngest children.
These schedules can be discussed with your pediatrician, along with other concerns that warrant regular visits such as feeding or sleeping issues.
8. Vision Exam
Most eye doctors (optometrists and ophthalmologists) suggest that their patients have comprehensive eye exams every one to two years, depending on the patient's age, risk factors such as diabetes, and whether or not they require glasses and/or contacts.
Annual eye exams are often needed to order prescription contact lenses each year, and they can help to detect vision-related issues such as glaucoma, cataracts, and macular degeneration.
9. Therapist or Counselor Sessions
Experts believe that a growing number of people are struggling with their mental health in the wake of Covid19. Research shows how helpful talk therapy can be.
Depending on your use of medications and your history with mental health such as diagnoses like depression, addiction, or anxiety, you may benefit from visiting a therapist or psychiatrist. Such visits are needed to renew prescriptions and to address other aspects of patients' treatment plans.
The mental health website TalkSpace states that "Therapy has been found to be most productive when incorporated into a client's lifestyle for approximately 12-16 sessions...which turns out to be about 3-4 months of once-weekly sessions."
You can make an appointment with a psychologist or licensed social worker for help. If your doctor suggests medications, you'll need to meet with an MD or a psychiatrist. Talk therapy sessions are also usually encouraged for most people taking medications. In the U.S, more than one in five adults takes daily psychiatric medication, with antidepressants (such as Celexa, Effexor, Paxil, and Zoloft, to name just a few) being the most common.
10. Other Specialist Visits Depending on Your Needs
Depending on your health history, you may require the help of other specialists — such as orthopedics, physical therapists, allergists, rheumatologists, and more, especially if you need to have prescriptions filled.
Like with other visits, you can now schedule virtual appointments with many of these providers, such as for help with making a new diagnosis, learning helpful physical exercises to do at home, making changes to your diet, and much more.