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Annual Checkup? The Doctor is Out

If you’re like many adults, then you probably schedule a yearly checkup with your doctor. These visits might include a brief physical exam and an interview about how you’re doing, mentally and physically. In the past, medical professionals fully supported the idea of annual wellness visits because they typically helped doctors identify problems early. However, opinion on the benefits of annual checkups has shifted toward a less aggressive approach, especially for otherwise healthy individuals. Do you still need to schedule an annual visit with your doctor? The American Medical Association suggests that many people don’t.

Different Criteria

First, it’s important to note that certain people are advised to continue scheduling annual visits. If you have a chronic medical condition, such as diabetes or high blood pressure, then you’ll want to get screened more frequently than someone without any problems. Recent guidelines recommend changing the “annual physical” to “periodic health assessments” based on the following criteria:

  • For adults aged 18 to 40, a physical exam every five years
  • For adults over 40, a physical exam every one to three years as applicable

If you take a regular prescription drug, then you would see a doctor more often. The reasoning behind these newer guidelines is that people under the age of 40 tend to be healthier, and a physical exam isn’t often enough to diagnose a specific medical condition in its early stages. Most people who experience an unusual symptom go to the doctor for that reason, and while there, a doctor may also recommend preventive measures that can help long term.

Cost Considerations

There are financial factors involved in the new approach to annual wellness visits. Each year, annual checkups cost the U.S. health care system about $8 billion. Doctors spend about 17 million hours chatting with healthy patients who could spend their time elsewhere. Even worse, doctors tend to order unnecessary tests – everything from lab work to imaging – during a patient’s yearly visit, which adds another burden to an already weighted health care system.

Benefits of Preventive Care

Before you take these facts as advice to skip your annual physical, keep in mind that yearly wellness checkups are not necessarily the same as preventive care. Preventive care involves tests, screenings, and exams that prevent or detect the development of a medical condition. For example, if you have a family history of heart disease, then you will want to see your doctor more often for blood pressure checks and blood panels to make sure that your numbers align with the normal range. Certain types of cancer also require more rigorous monitoring.

The important thing is to set up a schedule of visits that works for you and your doctor. Find a provider that listens to your concerns and symptoms, identifies tests and screenings that apply to your situation and follows up with you if you have a chronic condition. You’re in the control seat when it comes to your health care, so weigh the pros and cons of the annual visit.


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