People make appointments to see their doctor for many different reasons. Some only go to the doctor when they are experiencing a new problem or concern and are looking for a specific diagnosis or treatment. Others see their doctor at more regular intervals for ongoing follow-up of a chronic problem or disease. For many people, however, the frequency of office visits for a regular health maintenance checkup is not clear. The requirements are different for annual medical physicals, prescription drug follow-ups, prenatal, childhood checkups, and well-woman examinations. Some people expect to have a yearly checkup, and others feel that a checkup once every two to three years is sufficient.
A Checkup: How Often?
In the past, most medical groups advocated an annual health exam. However, more recently, the American Medical Association and other similar groups have moved away from the yearly exam. They now suggest that medical checkups be referred to as Periodic Health Assessments or Examinations and that they be performed every five years (for adults over 18) until age 40 and every one to three years thereafter. The requirements are for more frequent evaluations for those taking prescription medications. Most people younger than 40 years of age are generally free from diseases that could be diagnosed by physical examination alone. In this age group, health problems usually show specific signs or symptoms that would prompt you to seek medical attention. Also, a lot of the testing that was done routinely in the past has not been found to be cost effective and, in some cases, causes unnecessary additional testing and anxiety. Purpose of the periodic health examination As primary prevention To identify risk factors for common chronic diseases To detect disease that has no apparent symptoms (secondary prevention) As a way for the doctor to counsel people to promote healthy behavior To update clinical data since last checkup To enhance the relationship between you and your doctor.
Checkups as Preventive Care
A panel of doctors under the direction of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services studies the effectiveness of screening tests for early detection and prevention of disease. This group is called the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. The main goal of prevention and health promotion is to reduce the burden of suffering for the major preventable diseases. This task force has identified the 70 leading causes of death and disability in the United States and has ranked them by severity, prevalence, incidence, and potential for improvement. The task force has made recommendations on methods of avoiding these diseases through specific interventions. There are three levels of preventive care: All three of these levels of preventive care are important components of disease prevention and health maintenance. Primary prevention includes interventions that can completely prevent the disease in people at risk. One example is immunizations against certain vaccine-preventable diseases such as measles and tetanus.
Secondary prevention identifies established risk factors for disease. Checking blood pressure, cholesterol, and performing Pap tests for cervical cancer screening are examples in which identifying abnormal results can lead to effective interventions that may prevent serious disease from developing. Tertiary prevention is a process for optimizing health once a disease has been diagnosed. An example is a management plan to prevent a person from having another heart attack once they already have established heart disease.
Preventive interventions your doctor may use at your checkup are the following: Screening tests are useful in the early detection of disease. Some examples include the physical exam, blood pressure reading, Pap test, and laboratory tests. Immunizations include shots such as a tetanus booster, flu shots, and other vaccinations. Medication prescription may be as simple as suggesting that a person with heart disease risk factors take an aspirin daily. Counseling for health promotion either before or during a health problem may decrease the burden of suffering or prevent the disease. Examples of counseling topics include smoking cessation, safe sex practices, and pre-pregnancy advice on folic acid supplements.
A Typical Checkup
What can you expect at your checkup? Clinical history: Updating information on your chart or medical record is important. Some of the items you will likely be asked about include the following: Dates and results of previous preventive procedures .