What to expect at your annual visit – and how to prepare
You’re supposed to go to the doctor every year. But why visit a doctor when you’re not sick? Kevin Via, MD, said it’s important for maintaining good health. He explained what to expect and offered tips for how you can make the most of your yearly visit.
Why are annual checkups with a primary care physician important?
Annual checkups give an opportunity to address some of the preventive health items that can get overlooked when you go to the doctor for a problem, like a sprained ankle, or an illness, like a cold.
“Preventive health items often get put on the back burner. An annual visit sets aside time where you and your physician can discuss your day-to-day activities, such as diet and exercise. We can also go over preventive health guidelines that are recommended for your age so you can prevent medical problems from happening,” he said.
What does an annual visit include?
Dr. Via said a typical well visit includes the following:
- An update on your health history. We’ll have a conversation about changes in your health and what you can do to be healthier or prevent problems from developing later in life.
- A routine physical exam. We’ll listen to your heart and lungs, and we’ll press on your abdomen to make sure that it’s soft and without any lumps or bumps.
- A complete skin check. I always ask if you notice any new moles or changing freckles.
Dr. Via said more sensitive exams such as rectal or pelvic exams aren’t done as often. “For women, the recommendation for Pap tests, which screens for cervical cancer, is done every three years if results are normal and you’re under the age of 30. If you’re 30 to 65, it’s every five years if normal.”
How should I prepare for my annual well visit?
- Make a list. Think about any concerns and write them down. This will help make sure everything is addressed while you’re there. If you don’t have any concerns, that’s fine too.
- Check with your insurance provider. Ask about what’s covered under your annual checkup. Most preventive health visits are covered by insurance, but it’s a good idea to confirm. You might receive lab tests that check your cholesterol or blood sugar, or you might be referred for a mammogram or a colonoscopy.
How can I find a primary care physician?
- Search online. You can base your search on location. It also helps to look for provider videos, so you can kind of get to know the person before making a decision.
- Ask around. Ask family, friends or coworkers whose opinion you respect. Your relationship with a doctor is one you develop over many years. You want to find somebody who you feel good about and can be open with regardless of whatever problem may be going on.
- Do your homework. Understanding the difference between the types of providers is helpful.
What are the different types of primary care providers?
- Family medicine doctor. With family medicine, doctors have a three-year residency training program that involves seeing all ages from newborns to the very elderly. Family medicine doctors can do office procedures. They take care of general medical problems and basically serve as a primary care physician for the entire family, hence the name.
- Internal medicine doctor. These physicians choose to do an internal medicine residency, which is also three years of training, but they only see adults over age 18. They do a lot of the same types of procedures and provide the same type of general medical care.
- Family nurse practitioner. This is someone who has a nursing degree. Lots of times they’ve worked in the nursing field for many years, and then they receive training to be a nurse practitioner operating under the supervision of a physician. They also can see all ages, including kids and adults. They’re usually in an office with a physician, but they operate independently.
- Physician assistant. A PA is very similar to a nurse practitioner and functions in the same capacity as a nurse practitioner would.
What is the difference between an MD and a DO?
Dr. Via said there’s really no difference between the two. The MD stands for medical doctor and DO stands for a doctor of osteopathy. They’re both medical degrees with the same training requirements.
“You have to take many of the same exams to graduate and get certified. However, a DO receives additional training in osteopathic manipulative treatment. It’s not exactly like chiropractic care. It’s a little bit more research based. But they can do certain manipulations for different types of problems, whether it be back pain or shoulder pain or anything like that.”
What’s the bottom line when it comes to preventive care?
Dr. Via said try to make sure you schedule a well visit every year. “Life gets busy. But we want to make sure that everything gets done to keep you healthy so you can live a long, productive life.”
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