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Catching Up with Medical Care: Annual Physicals and What to Ask Your Provider

Annelise Evans, PA-C

People often visit their primary health care provider only when something is wrong. While this is vital, it is also important to get an annual physical, even if you’re feeling good. Our bodies can change in the course of a year, and an annual physical is a time to discuss any health issues, review lab work, screen for diseases, and develop a plan to improve health and wellness. This is also a time to ask questions and build a relationship with your provider and the staff, which makes it easier to stay in contact when any medical issues arise.

Annual wellness visits are an opportunity to ask questions, be proactive, and advocate for your health. Here are questions to consider for adults of all ages at their annual visit:

Are the signs and symptoms Im having normal?

In addition to asking overall how you’re doing, make sure to bring up any new symptoms or concerns that may have you wondering, “is this normal?” This could include pain, discomfort, lumps, bumps, bowel or bladder changes, dizziness, fatigue, or significant weight loss or gain.

Are there any updates on my current medical conditions?

Ask if there are changes, find out if you need any other tests or procedures, ask if there is anything you can do to help improve the condition or anything to stop doing, and discuss treatment options long-term.

Do any changes need to be made to medications or supplements?

Review all your medications, including supplements, and any side effects you may be having, cost issues, if certain meds are still necessary, what changes may help decrease or discontinue the medication if applicable, and the best time to take all medications. Bring all your medications with you for easy verification.

Can you help me interpret my lab results? Should I have any other tests done?

Your provider can review all test results and discuss any other test or health screenings recommended for your age group. Ask about the need for earlier screenings if you are aware of any concerning family medical history.

Is this new medical issue something that can be treated?

If your provider finds a new medical diagnosis, ask about treatment options, risks, and alternatives, what lifestyle changes may help, and how often to follow up.

As you progress through life, different age ranges can bring up different medical needs. Be aware of general guidelines for each age group and understand you may need more tests and screenings as you age.

Ages 20-39

If you have no medical issues, talk to your provider about how often to schedule an annual visit and generally when to come in. This is a time to discuss establishing baseline blood work or other tests based on family history, how often to check blood pressure or blood sugar, or have other medical screens. If you do have medical issues or start to have medical issues, an annual physical becomes more important. It’s better to catch any changes early, rather than waiting and potentially having more complications.

For sexually active individuals, make sure to have a conversation about birth control options and preventing sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Discuss the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine that is used to protect against high risk strains of the virus that can lead to cervical cancer. The HPV vaccination is recommended from ages 11-26. If you are over 26 years of age and have not had the vaccine, talk to your provider to decide if you are a candidate based on your risk factors.

Women need to start annual well woman visits for breast and pelvic exams, and to discuss menstrual health, birth control, STIs, and pregnancy options. Pap smears start at age 21, and can involve both the testing of cervical cells and HPV screenings.

Men need to start discussing prostate and testicular health in this age range.

Ages 40-64

Once you’re in your 40s habits such as alcohol, drugs, smoking, poor diet and exercise habits, and sun exposure can significantly increase your risk for medical conditions such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and skin cancers. While keeping up with any medical updates in the 20-39 age range, there are more updates to discuss with your provider including:

  • Colorectal screenings starting at age 45 at normal risk with 5-10 year follow-up based on results
  • Hepatitis B and C screening
  • STI, HPV, and HIV screenings
  • Diabetes screening every three years if overweight or obese
  • Annual skin cancer screen
  • Annual lung cancer screening for those who smoked a minimum of one pack of cigarettes a day for 20 years, or have smoked significant amounts of cigarettes over many years
  • Annual flu vaccine, COVID vaccines, shingles and pneumonia vaccines, and 10-year tetanus booster
  • Ask about overall cardiovascular health and healthy lifestyle changes to prevent heart disease
  • For women, ask about frequency for breast cancer screening, pap smears, and bone density screenings. This is also the time to begin discussing perimenopause and menopause symptoms as they come up.
  • For men, consider discussion of prostate health and screening.

Ages 65 and above

Once you turn 65, Medicare may not cover an annual physical depending on your health coverage. Medicare Part B instead covers an Annual Wellness Visit. You are eligible for your first wellness exam after you have had Part B for at least 12 months. HopeHealth has several providers who facilitate Annual Wellness Visits under Medicare.

A wellness exam is an assessment of overall health and well-being with yearly updates for a personalized prevention plan. Your provider combines information from the visit with your medical records to determine your risk of common preventable health problems such as heart disease, cancer, and Type 2 diabetes and creates a checklist of screenings you will need to complete.

Here are some of the things your provider may do during this visit:

  • Review your health risk assessment (questions you answer about your health)
  • Confirm your medical and family history
  • Record your current prescriptions and medical providers/specialists
  • Measure and document your height, weight, and blood pressure
  • Look for signs of memory loss, dementia, or frailty
  • Document your health risk factors and treatment options
  • Provide personalized health advice
  • Develop a screening schedule (like a checklist) for the preventive services recommended for you
  • Discuss advanced care planning such as an advanced directive, living-will, and health care power of attorney.

Medicare Part B covers an annual wellness exam and many preventive screenings with no copay or deductible. However, you may have to pay a share of the cost for certain recommended tests or services. While the wellness exam is not required, it is important to take advantage of this benefit.

One question to discuss with your primary provider and insurance company is whether you will still need an annual physical each year. Make sure to discuss and follow up with any screenings or vaccines that are listed in the 40-64 age group and not discussed at the Medicare wellness exam. Also, men in the 65-75 age group need to discuss an abdominal aortic aneurysm screen, especially with a history of smoking.

As an advocate for your own health, this puts you in partnership with your provider as you navigate medical conditions, working together to achieve optimal health and better outcomes at each stage of life!

 


HopeHealth

HopeHealth

HopeHealth educates its patients on the importance of having a health care home. As a primary care facility, HopeHealth’s medical team works to prevent and detect illness and the early onset of disease, provide routine physical examinations and promote overall healthy lifestyles.

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