Do You Really Need an Annual Health Exam as an Adult?
doctor with stethoscope
As with the answer to many health questions, whether you need an annual exam varies by the patient — and physician. “It depends,” says Dr. David Fleming, president of the American College of Physicians, which represents internists, doctors who care for adult patients.
He says patients could visit their primary care doctor less frequently if their blood pressure is in a normal healthy range, below 120 over 80; they have no known risk factors, such as for heart disease; and aren’t due for preventive screenings. “Seeing their doctor every two to three years is reasonable to talk about how they’re doing,” he says, if healthy.
However, for those with a family history of hypertension — the so-called “silent killer” — heart disease or diabetes, or other risk factors such as smoking, and for patients due for preventive screenings or have other health concerns, he recommends at least going in for an annual exam.
Dr. Jennifer Frost, medical director for the American Academy of Family Physicians’ Health of the Public and Science Division, reiterates that there’s not a yes or no answer. She stresses though that for most people it’s a good idea to get an annual check up to discuss lifestyle, screen for different issues and maintain a relationship with a primary care doctor to share health concerns. “I think if a patient trusts you and knows that you care about them, they are much more likely to take your advice,” she says.
As we age, experts note that risks for chronic conditions tends to increase and urge keeping up with changes to screening recommendations, like those put forth by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force.
Do your homework on debated preventive care guidelines, such as the timing and frequency of testing for breast cancer or the best method for colon cancer screening. Talk with your primary doctor to determine how to move forward, in addition to checking vitals such as blood pressure at your regular — yearly or otherwise — exam.
“It’s about keeping patients with known illnesses, [including] chronic conditions, out of the hospital,” Fleming says. “For those who have no known illnesses, it’s about screening and prevention.”