Are Annual Physicals Worth It?
According to the CDC, Americans are using preventive health services at only about half the rate recommended. That means 50% of your friends, neighbors, co-workers and relatives are not taking advantage of their covered health screenings. What keeps someone from taking advantage of a free service?
Confounding arguments are sputtering around the media regarding annual physical exams. Some say it is a waste of time and doesn’t actually improve health outcomes. Others share stories of lifesaving results they found after a routine exam. Where does that leave me? I’m a busy mom with young children; trying to balance work, family and community commitments does not leave time for unnecessary doctor’s visits. But with a strong family history of high cholesterol, heart disease, elevated blood pressure and cancer I don’t want to be negligent about my health.
Since the initiation of the Affordable Care Act, all major health insurance plans are required to provide preventive services. That means, you can go to an in-network doctor for an annual check up without even paying a copay. The way I see it, if my plan covers a service that is likely to help and not hurt me, I will take advantage of it.
"Americans are using preventive health services at only half the rate recommended."
Importance of Early Detection
One of the most satisfying parts of my role as a primary care provider is early detection. I had a patient recently come in complaining of fatigue. She was tempted to write it off, because who isn’t tired in our fast paced culture? After reviewing her routine preventive lab screening, we learned that she was profoundly anemic. Thankfully, many cases of anemia can be treated simply; within 2 weeks my patient was feeling a new level of energy she hadn’t felt in years. Had she not come in for her annual physical, she may have been at risk for some scary complications related to low iron stores.
Anemia is one of many illnesses that can be identified during an annual physical exam. Conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, skin conditions and certain lung disorders can be discovered through a routine preventive health exam.
What should I expect at the doctor's office?
Let's say I am a 40 year old female going in for my annual preventive wellness exam. What should I expect? From my experience as a primary care provider, here are the 4 basics of what to expect at your physical:
- Vital Signs: Height, weight, body mass index, blood pressure, pulse and respirations can give a provider a lot of information about your health.
- Screening tests: Screenings provide a basis for early detection. You can expect to receive the following screenings: cervical cancer (pap smear every 5 years), breast cancer (mammogram every 1-2 years), breast cancer genetic test counseling (BRCA testing for high risk patients), anemia, depression, sexually transmitted infection, domestic violence screening and contraception counseling.
- Lab work: Basic screening for anemia, thyroid conditions, diabetes, cholesterol, kidneys, liver and electrolytes. It's a good idea to not eat or drink anything except water the day of your appointment as some tests require that you are fasting to get the most accurate results.
- Plan: Based upon your exam, you work with your provider to develop a health plan going forward. Bill of good health today? Great! Keep up the good work! Have some work to do on your weight? A provider wants to help you navigate the world of healthy habits. Need refills on your prescriptions? Let’s try to get you generics that will work for you.
What do I do next?
I get it. As a busy mom who feels fine, it sounds crazy to find someone to watch the kids while I go to the doctor. But the reality is a healthier mommy means a better mommy for my family. Plus, it gives me peace of mind too!
Know someone that has been on the fence about preventive care? Please share this article with them and engage with us if you have any questions.
At TakeCommandHealth, we're here to help you find the right health insurance for you and your family. We also want to help you get the best bang for your buck with those premiums--including taking advantage of preventive care and annual check-ups. Check out the specifics of what is covered for you and your spouse.