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Do you really need an annual physical? Maybe

by KATHY HUBBARD Contributing Writer
| January 18, 2023 1:00 AM

Today’s question is, do you really need an annual physical examination? And, the definitive answer is – maybe. There are many benefits to seeing your primary care provider every year. If you’re in excellent health, are under the age of 65, have a good working relationship with your healthcare provider, and you’re not due for screenings, you may be able to skip a year.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, you are the star of your healthcare team. So, making the right decisions for your health scores you the most points. If those points add up to a healthier life, why not take the time for an annual exam?

First, the benefits. UT Health in Houston says that regular checkups benefit all ages in helping identify potential issues before they begin.

“The more we know about you, the better we are able to tailor treatments best for you,” Carman H. Whiting, MD, a family medicine specialist with UT, said. “Depending on your age, health, and family history, there are a variety of tests that can be performed to help determine if there are any underlying conditions such as heart disease or diabetes.”

Screening tests, such as blood tests, will develop a baseline of information which you and your provider will use to monitor any improvements or declines in your health.

Healthline explains that “regular blood testing is one of the most important ways to keep track of your overall physical well-being. Getting tested at routine intervals can allow you to see the way your body changes over time and empower you to make informed decisions about your health.”

A simple blood draw can search for “markers of diseases and health conditions such as diabetes, HIV, anemia, cancer, and coronary heart disease,” Healthline says. “Even if a person does not have heart disease, a blood test can show whether they may be at risk of developing the condition.”

It’s also important that your medications be evaluated regularly. Are they working as well as they should? Are you experiencing negative side effects, are there better or cheaper drugs on the market that will work just as well? These are questions that your medico can answer.

In my opinion, the most important reason to have a regular visit with your PCP goes back to Dr. Whiting’s words, “the more we know about you.” That’s a two-way street. The more confidence you have in your PCP, the more likely you are to confess what’s going on in your body. Having mutual respect can result in a discussion about lifestyle changes that may result in more positive outcomes for you.

“Based on your goals and a thorough health screening, an expert can recommend different options to help ensure lasting changes. Recognizing that change is necessary is an important first step,” Dr. Whiting said.

So, those are some of the benefits. On the flip side, I found a Time article from 2018. It quoted Dr. Ateev Mehrotra, an associate professor of health care policy and medicine at Harvard Medical School, who wrote in a 2015 article in the New England Journal of Medicine that annual physicals are a big drag on physicians’ office hours and cut into their ability to spend time with sick patients in need.

“We have not seen any improvements in what we care about, which is longer and healthier lives,” he wrote. “While older adults – those 65 and above – may benefit, younger people don’t need this exam every year.”

Dr. Ted Epperly, a physician and president of Family Medicine Residency of Idaho, somewhat agreed but said, “I think having a relationship with my patients builds trust and allows for better counseling around preventive behaviors and lifestyle factors like diet and exercise.”

He added, “My sense is that the annual physical’s place in American medicine is still felt to be valuable by both physicians and patients.”

At the end of the day, it’s up to you and your provider to determine how frequently you need to see each other to maintain your health. The crucial step is to choose a provider that you respect and trust.

Bonner General Health Family Practice is accepting new patients. Call 208-265-2221 for an appointment.

Kathy Hubbard is a member of the Bonner General Health Foundation Advisory Council. She can be reached at kathyleehubbard@yahoo.com.

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Kathy Hubbard

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