If you have a primary care physician, then you probably receive a reminder once a year that it’s time for your annual physical. While it may be tempting to cancel or postpone your appointment for another time, it’s important not to delay your yearly check-up.
As a family medicine physician, I’m here to remind you why an annual physical is crucial to your overall health and wellness — even if you’re not sick.
1. Overall health and wellness assessment
Your annual physical is an opportunity for you and your physician to discuss your overall health, how you’re feeling and any concerns you may have. Even if you’re not sick, there may be other questions you have for your physician regarding topics like weight loss goals, allergies, mental health, etc. that you can discuss during this time.
Screening for tobacco use, alcohol use, intimate partner violence, depression and high-risk sexual activity are vital to discuss at this time as well. This is a chance to ask for help and get resources.
For children, annual physicals involve screening for vision, hearing, oral health and developmental milestones. Routine developmental evaluation of children is important. There are specific screening tools such as the Ages and Stages Questionnaire that measure developmental milestones. These developments include communication skills, personal-social skills, problem-solving skills and motor skills. It is also important to evaluate depression in adolescents, which should begin at 12 years old.
2. Disease prevention and vaccination updates
One primary reason for going to an annual visit is disease prevention. People of all ages, from pediatrics to geriatrics, need annual preventative visits.
For adults, an annual physical can identify risk factors for conditions such as heart disease. It is recommended you be screened for high cholesterol if you are at an increased risk for heart disease. If blood pressure is greater than 135/80, or the individual has risk factors such as obesity, then a screening for diabetes would be necessary.
It is also important to update vaccinations while at this consultation. If you have certain medical conditions, you may need additional vaccines that the general population may not need.
3. Screening for cancers
Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the U.S. and early screening can have a great impact on survival — especially at an annual physical exam. Below is a list of cancer screening recommendations you should consult with your doctor about:
Breast and cervical cancer
For women, breast cancer screening with a mammogram should start between the ages of 40-49. Screening for cervical cancer starts at the age of 21 and can be discontinued at age 65 if the patient is not at high risk for cervical cancer. In most cases, patients need guidance to determine if they are high risk and an annual visit can help determine that.
In men, a conversation should take place about the risks versus benefits of prostate cancer screening.
Recommended screening for colon cancer is between 50-75 years of age. These ages at which screenings start may need to begin sooner if the patient has high-risk factors such as a family history of cancer. If a patient is more than 65-75 years old, the physician can help determine if these screening measures need to be continued based on their personal medical history.
4. Develop a relationship with your doctor
The most essential part of an annual physical is building a great rapport with your physician. In order for the patient to have great overall health and follow-through with recommended plans, the patient must feel comfortable with the physician. Making your annual physical a priority can help to establish this relationship and help you work together to keep you healthy.
Research has shown that a good patient-to-physician relationship can lead to an increase in patients following treatment plans and returning for follow-up appointments and help with overall outcomes. It is critical that you feel comfortable bringing up issues that are private and can be emotional to talk about. These sensitive issues can lead to good disease prevention.
Don’t skip out the next time your annual reminder comes up. Yearly physical exams are recommended for everyone and having a primary care physician can lead to better health outcomes!
US Preventative Task Forces