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On Your Health

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Preventive Health Care Appointments You Should Have Each Year

A trip to the doctor's office shouldn’t happen only out of necessity after years of ignoring your health. Preventive health care appointments are critical in helping detect and diagnose certain diseases, disorders and cancers. Too often, being reactive instead of proactive, can lead to poor long-term outcomes.

Knowing the importance of preventive health care is only the first step. We’ll help educate you on the doctors to see and the appointments you should make on (and keep) an annual basis.

What is preventive health care and why is it important? 

Preventative care is any type of health care that helps prevent disease or illness as opposed to treating a condition when it becomes a problem. Annual health care appointments include wellness checkups, health screenings and immunizations. 

These appointments alert your doctor of potentially serious issues that may need more attention. For example, yearly blood work could detect issues such as abnormal kidney enzyme levels that may indicate poor kidney function. Why is that important? Nearly 90% of patients with chronic kidney disease don’t know they have it.

Preventive appointments and screenings are even more important if you have a chronic disease, such as diabetes, lung disease or kidney disease. Almost half of patients (43 percent) with a chronic condition said they slacked on routine checkups during the COVID-19 pandemic out of fear of exposure to the virus, according to the American Diabetes Association.

Preventive health can save lives

Even before the pandemic began, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention conducted a study that showed how avoidable some health-related deaths are with simple screenings and preventive health.

More than 800,000 Americans die each year from the five leading causes of death — heart disease, cancer, chronic lower respiratory diseases, stroke and unintentional injuries — yet the study classified 20 to 40 percent of those deaths as preventable.

High blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, tobacco use and a lack of physical activity contribute to heart disease and stroke and can also increase your risk of developing certain cancers. Preventive health care appointments can help keep these risk factors low, thus reducing your chance of developing long-term medical problems. 

As an example, if you’re over 40 and have two or more of the risk factors listed above, we recommend a $50 heart scan that screens your vascular health. The imaging measures calcium deposits in your arteries to provide a clear picture of your heart’s health. Call 405-946-2273 to schedule your heart scan at one of our five locations.

Furthermore, the American Cancer Society estimates 42 percent of cancer cases and 45 percent of cancer deaths in the U.S. are due to potentially modifiable risk factors.

For cancer and other serious diseases, early detection limits the possible negative outcomes and equips your doctor with more treatment options. Breast cancer is one of the most notable examples. Early detection of localized breast cancer (meaning it hasn’t spread outside the breast) comes with a 99 percent five-year survival rate. But that figure plummets to just 28 percent in more advanced cases when it spreads to other organs.

Even with these figures, screenings still have room to grow. Only a third of women over the age of 40 reported having a mammogram within the past two years, according to the CDC.

Doctors you should see regularly

Whenever it’s time to flip over the calendar to a new year, make sure to prioritize the following annual doctor appointments.

Primary care physician

Think of primary care physicians as the gatekeepers of your health — everything starts with them. These doctors usually specialize in internal medicine or family medicine and can help screen anything from high cholesterol to diabetes.  

You should see a primary care doctor at least once a year for a general checkup and blood work. These tests screen cholesterol levels, blood pressure, immune system health and kidney and liver function. Primary care doctors will also keep you on schedule for vaccinations, provide dietary recommendations and monitor your mental health. If necessary, they can refer you to a specialist for further treatment.

One important note to consider: Your primary care doctor can only be as helpful as you allow them to be. In other words, be 100% transparent. You may not want to discuss sensitive information that puts you in a vulnerable situation, but it could be the difference in whether a serious medical issue goes unnoticed. 

For children, your child should see a pediatrician regularly following birth. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends visits at one month, two months, four months, six months, nine months, 12 months, 15 months, 18 months, 24 months and 30 months until they reach three years old. After that, wellness visits should occur each year.

Pediatricians will document the progress of your child as they approach notable milestones, such as learning to crawl, walk and talk. They will also assist you in ensuring your child receives the necessary vaccinations.

Gynecologist

Starting at age 13 to 15, young women should see a gynecologist for annual women’s wellness exams. This will cover everything from education about menstrual cycles to general medical services such as vaccinations.  

Once you become sexually active, women’s wellness exams become even more important. A gynecologist can screen for human papillomavirus (HPV), discuss contraception options and conduct pelvic exams and pap smear tests. The National Cancer Institute (NCI) recommends receiving an HPV test or HPV/Pap co-test every five years for those ages 25 to 65. Alternatively, you can receive a pap smear test every three years. All three tests screen for cervical cancer, and the NCI found the HPV test to be more accurate than a pap smear test. They don’t recommend screening past age 65 unless you’ve had a previous abnormal test. 

A gynecologist can help treat infertility and help with early detection of conditions such as polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), endometriosis, sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and vaginitis. Like your primary care physician, a gynecologist can also perform a mammogram. 

Dermatologist

Your skin is the largest organ in the body. You should take care of it as such. Dermatology is more than treating acne and keeping your skin looking healthy. You may not think a yearly dermatologist visit is necessary, but routine skin exams can help spot skin cancer in its early stages. These visits are even more important if you have a weakened immune system or a family history of skin cancer. 

Aside from skin cancer screening, a dermatologist also helps treat more common conditions such as psoriasis and eczema. They also treat symptoms associated with sexually transmitted diseases since these diseases mostly affect the skin. Most STDs are treatable, and some are even curable, so it’s important to alert your primary care doctor or dermatologist if you believe you’re infected.

Dentist

Regular dentist visits may seem scary due to the cost and fear of pain associated with some of the procedures. But, any dental issues will be more problematic the longer they go undiagnosed or untreated.

Most dental insurance plans cover 100 percent of the costs associated with at least one preventive care/dental cleaning visit a year or two visits every six months. The American Dental Association doesn’t have an official recommendation, instead noting there isn’t a one-size-fits-all schedule. Some people need more frequent visits to address dental hygiene, while others require fewer visits. It all depends on the individual. Talk to your dentist about what works best for you.

Optometrist

Staying on top of your eye health is crucial in diagnosing and treating conditions that may lead to vision loss. 

The American Optometric Association recommends annual comprehensive eye exams for children ages six to 17. Before that, they suggest infants receive an eye screening at 6 and 12 months, followed by at least one visit a year between the ages of three and five. 

For adults ages 18 through 64, you should see an eye doctor at least every two years and once a year if you’re older than 65. All adults in an at-risk category should receive an annual eye exam. The at-risk categories include a family history of ocular disease, certain occupations that are hazardous to your eyes, wearing contact lenses, refractive errors, taking medications with ocular side effects or people who have had refractive surgery.

Pregnant Woman Talking to Doctor about Preventative Healthcare

Annual preventive screenings 

Depending on age, you should have the following preventive screens performed each year.

Blood pressure

Adults over the age of 40 or anyone who falls into a risk category should have their blood pressure checked annually. Risk factors include race (African Americans), obesity, lack of physical activity, unhealthy eating habits, drinking too much alcohol and chronic diseases such as kidney failure, diabetes and some types of heart disease. Adults over the age of 20 with a blood pressure reading below 120/80 mm Hg should be screened every two years.

Breast cancer 

Starting at age 40, women can receive annual mammograms, although the ACS only recommends starting at 45. Women 55 and older can switch to mammograms every other year if they choose to. Screening should continue if you’re healthy and expect to live more than 10 years. 

Lipid panel (cholesterol)

An annual blood draw to check for cholesterol levels should take place if you have a family history of heart disease or high cholesterol, diabetes or are obese. Old age and being a male are other risk factors that can lead to high cholesterol. Adults who are otherwise healthy should have their cholesterol checked at least every five years.

Lung cancer 

Starting at age 55, the ACS recommends yearly lung cancer screening with a low-dose CT scan (LDCT) for people ages 55 to 74 years who currently smoke or have quit in the past 15 years and who also smoked an average of a pack of cigarettes per day for 30 years.

Sexually transmitted diseases (STD)

All sexually active women under the age of 25 should be tested annually for gonorrhea and chlamydia. After 25, you should continue receiving yearly tests if you have new or multiple sex partners or a sex partner with an STD. Sexually active gay and bisexual men should also receive annual sexual health screenings for syphilis, chlamydia and gonorrhea. Everyone ages 13 to 65 should receive an HIV test at least once. Yearly HIV testing should occur for sexually active gay and bisexual men, anyone who has unsafe sex or drug users who share equipment.

What does insurance cover?

The Affordable Care Act requires insurance companies and Medicare to offer preventive services at no cost. That’s why things such as shots and screening tests are free as long as you visit an in-network provider.

Beyond that, many insurance companies will cover routine blood work depending on your plan. While some types of blood work don’t fall under the preventive category, you should still take advantage of these services if they’re free.

Think of it this way: You're already paying a monthly premium to insurance companies for your coverage, so you might as well take advantage of the screenings and tests provided at no cost. Or, in the case of screenings covered by the Affordable Care Act, your tax-paying dollars are at work.

Visit this link for a full list of which preventive services insurances are required to cover.

 

To learn more about preventive health care appointments, visit the INTEGRIS Health primary care page.

 

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