A recent op-ed piece in the New York Times suggests we should skip our annual visit to the doctor. Why? Apparently after years of solid research, it was found that “annual physicals did not reduce mortality overall or for specific causes of death from cancer or heart disease.”
But, is that why we have annual physicals - to reduce our chance of dying? I think most of us have physicals to make sure all our vitals are in-line, chronic conditions are under control, discuss certain oddities (especially as we age SHEESH!) and get peace-of mind about our overall health picture.
Here’s my story: at my annual physical, I brought up a small issue I had. My doctor and I discussed some tests that would help pin down the cause. An ultrasound revealed an ovarian tumor. One week later I was having surgery and the biopsy results showed the big C. That’s right: Stage 1 ovarian cancer. The doctor told me I was extremely lucky. I never would have had the discussion with my doctor if I didn’t schedule my annual physicals. Had I taken the advice in the op-ed piece, I may not have caught it until Stage 3 or 4. While I may not have died, my life would’ve been forever changed.
The American Academy of Family Practitioners says yes to physical exams and suggests tailoring the frequency of visits to your health needs.
Based on my experience, below are the top 3 reasons for scheduling that annual check-up…
1. Who you gonna call?
The author of the op-ed piece suggested we only need to see a doctor when there’s an acute illness. Imagine waking up one morning with the flu. You call a random doctor’s office and they get you in at 10am, right? Oh yes, that’ll happen or NOT! Most offices have a limited number of new patient slots—and they’re filled before the day even begins, especially during flu season. Instead, you end up spending hours at a doc-in–the-box.
2. Do I know you?
You know that one good friend you meet for coffee once a year. It seems after the first sip of java, you’re off and running, picking up right where you last left off. Now, try that with some stranger on the street. It’s much harder to get that convo rolling. It’s easier to tell a doctor what’s REALLY going on if you have an established relationship. If it’s your first meeting, the doc doesn’t know you, your personality, your body, your medical history, etc. – and you don’t know and/or trust her.
3. You found what?
An annual physical is the best time to discuss that minor, yet pesky health problem you’ve been living with. The appointment time slot is much longer (not the 5 minute quick-look for most acute illnesses). This gives the necessary time for you and your doctor to review past medical history and decide on a course of action together. Based on my experience (see story above), these small health problems can be symptoms of something much larger and potentially deadly.
There’s no one-size-fits-all answer. Regular check-ups are important to maintain a relationship with your doctor and to receive individualized counseling based on your age, family health history, disease risk factors and lifestyle.
Now it’s your turn? Do you get an annual physical or regular check-ups? Why or why not?