How Often Do You Really Need a Physical Exam?
Is an annual appointment really necessary for healthy adults, or are visits to your primary care physician on a need-only basis enough?
Most healthy adults see their doctor for a physical either annually—or, if all remains well, once every few years. The general approach to scheduling these exams is typically based on a variety of factors. If you have a family history of a particular illness, your doctor might recommend a specific schedule for you to have screenings. On the other hand, if your general practitioner considers you to be in good health overall, as a non-smoker without a history of chronic health problems, they may advise that you can skip the yearly physical and opt for a visit on bi-annual basis instead. Whatever your health history looks like, you should speak with your doctor to determine how often you should schedule your physical exams. Ahead, a professional weighs in on check-up frequency—and the factors that play into your own schedule.
There's a medically sanctioned schedule most doctors follow.
The US Preventive Services Task Force sets the standard most physicians abide by when determining a schedule for their patients' check-ups. This consists of an evidence-based guideline regarding screenings for various cancers, deficiencies, sexually transmitted illnesses, mental well-being, general health, and so on.
But your schedule is personal.
According to Dr. Amy Rantala, a family medicine physician at Mayo Clinic Health System, your own exam schedule is intrinsically personal. "How frequently a person should see their primary care provider is very individualized, and should entail a discussion between the patient and his or her provider," she explains. "A patient's age, gender, and health are considered when setting a schedule for preventive care. For a healthy person (on no medication and without chronic health concerns) under the age of 49, it may be every one to five years. For those over age 50, it may be one to three years."
Work with your doctor to make a decision you're comfortable with.
There's a lot more to a physical exam than a blood pressure reading and lung check. This is a dedicated period of time during which you can ask your provider questions, from concerns about your family history to that status of your mental health. "During a physical, the primary care provider is paying attention to not only the patient's specific concerns, but also evaluating their mood, checking the skin for changes, and evaluating their past history, family history, and social history for any opportunities to improve health, or detect disease early," explains Rantala, which is why it's important to set a schedule that you (and your doctor) feel good about. If you're told that you're good to go for the next half-decade, but would feel better with yearly check-ins and bloodwork, voice your concern—and make sure you're heard.