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 Grand Illumination and Spring Break. It doesn’t matter when, just as long as you remember to do it!
Why Do People Put Off Their Physicals?
It’s not that hard to go in for this appointment, so why do people often miss it? Sometimes, they just forget. Williamsburg is full of people who are retired and love to travel, and maybe it just escapes their notice in between trips. It’s also hard as we get busy to remember when we last went in just to see the doctor for a check-up – was it 2 years ago or 3?
It might not seem like a year or two might make a difference, but health professionals agree that it does, for several reasons.
Annual Physicals Matter
Williamsburg internist Dr. Tara Khoshnaw with Sentara Family & Internal Medicine Physicians, 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.”
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.
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.
The job of your primary care doctor is to oversee your total health, and if you need to see a specialist, they can refer you. For women, gynecology is regular part of their specialty health care. But did you know that many women see their Primary Care Provider for their annual exams? One of the reasons for that is including it in the overall health care that your internist or doctor can provide.
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.
“Patients should be asking about health changes and their Body Mass 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.”
Lower Health Costs, Lower Health Anxiety
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 or your hearing. You can talk about how your weight has changed and what you think is the reason for that. 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. After all, you are the owner of your body, and the best person to report on how it’s running every day.
Avoiding chronic conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity can help you in the long run, and help avoid trips to the hospital. Research about primary care shows that people who keep their physicals have lower health costs and lower anxiety about their health, because they have a better sense of their health status. The shift to patient-centered medical homes show a decrease in medical costs overall, and an increase in chronic care coordination – so less things are missed, and more money is saved.
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
- If you need help with your everyday health, turn to your primary care provider first.