Normal aches and pains or the occasional sniffle and cough may not alert you to go to the doctor, but establishing regular health exams and tests can help find potential problems before they start. Regular doctor’s visits can also help find problems early, when your chances for treatment and cure are better. So, that sniffle or cough could end up being the flu or even worse.
By getting consistent health services, screenings and treatments, you are taking steps that help your chances for living a longer, healthier life. Your age, health and family history, what you eat, how active you are, whether you smoke and other important factors impact what and how often you need healthcare.
Anton Kuzel, M.D., professor and chairman of the Department of Family Medicine and Population Health at Virginia Commonwealth University’s School of Medicine, provided insight on how often someone should see a doctor and what routine examinations we should have on a consistent basis to keep us healthy.
“The answer depends on age and health considerations.” comments Dr. Kuzel.
Infants and very young children have frequent visits to doctors for immunizations, parenting guidance/concerns and developmental screening. In general, young otherwise healthy adults should focus more on healthy behaviors (diet, exercise, no smoking or drugs, moderate or no use of alcohol, etc.) – this will have a much bigger impact on their ongoing health than doctor visits.
According to the U.S. Preventive Services Taskforce, the following are some recommended screenings:
- Screen for high blood pressure starting at age 18 and every five-to-seven years. People who are at increased risk of high blood pressure should have an annual screening starting at age 40.
- Screen for high cholesterol beginning at age 35 in men and 45 in women. If readings are normal, screen again every 5 years.
- Screen for diabetes in adults ages 40 to 70 who are overweight or obese. This should also be done for patients who have high blood pressure.
- Screen for cervical cancer with a Pap smear beginning at age 21 and continuing every 3 years to age 65.
- In average risk individuals, start screening for colon cancer starting at age 50. There are multiple options for screening and patients should select the one that makes sense to them.
- Screen for breast cancer with mammograms every two years between the ages of 50 and 74.
Here are five things to consider when trying to figure out how frequently you should be seeing a doctor.
- When was the last time you went to a doctor?
- Has anything changed since the last time you went to a doctor? If there’s something that’s been bugging you and just doesn’t seem to be getting better, it’s time to see your doctor.
- When was the last time the doctor told you to follow up? If you’re not sure, you can always call the doctor’s office and ask. But there are variations on schedules for routine tests based on the results of your last test.
- Was there something you wanted to follow up on with the doctor? If your blood pressure was borderline high at the last visit, your doctor may have recommended ways to change your lifestyle to try and bring it back down to normal.
- Has something in your family medical history changed? Knowing your family history is important; it can impact your risk of certain diseases and the suggested screening tests to undergo.
“Some doctors will treat minor illness without requiring an office visit. If it is appropriate to have a face-to-face evaluation, I would recommend either going to a pharmacy-based walk-in clinic or, if more serious, an urgent care facility.” says Dr. Kuzel. “Only truly serious problems should prompt a visit to an emergency room. In most ERs, well over half the visits did not require the level of care available at an ER.”
The truth is there is no exact timetable for how frequently each individual needs to visit the doctor. Some people think they need to go multiple times a year, even when they are healthy and feeling well. Some people think they can forgo seeing a doctor until they get really sick.
The final question during every doctor’s visit should be when to come back. It’s important to make a schedule but not to forget to pay attention to other things that are happening inside and around you that may change when you should go back. Take charge of your health and schedule your next doctor’s visit now!