Do You Really Need an Annual Physical?
By Michael Gill, MD, Internal Medicine and Pediatrics
Over the past several years, there has been a debate as to whether or not you need to see your doctor every year for a physical. Some healthcare professionals say it's essential, while others say that sometimes it’s okay to skip the often-dreaded visit. So do you really need a yearly physical with your doctor? The short answer is, it depends on your stage of life and overall health.
In general, physicals should be considered periodic health assessments. These visits give patients the opportunity to ask their doctor questions relevant to their current stage of life and address any emergent health issues.
What should you be asking about during your next annual health assessment?
For parents and their newborns, develop a regular schedule to visit your pediatrician. Monitoring your child's physical growth and development is critical at the newborn and toddler stages. Additionally, your pediatrician can provide advice at these visits about what to expect for sleeping and feeding schedules, when to start certain kinds of foods, or even when you can expect new skills like sitting, walking and talking.
As your child grows, annual visits remain important. Milestones like physical growth, social maturity and even behavior and performance in school are taken into account and monitored. This is also the time when questions are raised about potential attention deficit or hyperactivity disorders.
In the adolescent years, children begin to grow more rapidly as their bodies undergo sexual maturation and they are faced with many outside pressures. Annual visits are important as the physician can explain what is happening to your child's body, and can provide advice on good decision-making and how to avoid risky behaviors. Your child can also confide in their physician and ask questions or share concerns in a completely confidential and non-judgmental manner.
While many young adults in their 20’s don't think they need the annual visit to the doctor, it's still important to come in. It’s also the first time in their lives that they have the opportunity to choose their own primary care doctor. Women can discuss gynecological health, and boosters for whooping cough should be administered. Screenings for sexually transmitted diseases, cholesterol and blood sugar are offered to this age group. While most young people enjoy good health, if an unexpected acute illness or problem arises, it's always helpful to have a doctor you are comfortable with and who is familiar with your health history.
Most healthy individuals in their 30's and 40's don't necessarily need to schedule a visit every year. However, by age 50, annual assessments are recommended so physicians can administer screening tests and look for common problems like hypertension or diabetes. Physicians will continue to provide counseling on healthy behaviors like proper diet and exercise, which become even more important as your age increases.
In the post-retirement years, new challenges arise. Mobility issues may present themselves, screenings for osteoporosis are recommended, and your physician can even provide insight into issues like advanced directives.
While the traditional concept of an "annual physical" might be changing, perhaps the most important element throughout all stages of life is that these annual visits give you the opportunity to foster the doctor-patient relationship. There can be no substitute for having a doctor who knows you well and whom you trust.
Michael Gill, MD, PhD, FAAP, is a general pediatrician and practices general internal medicine at Loyola Medicine. His clinical interests include allergies, diabetes and preventive medicine.
Dr. Gill earned his medical degree at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine. He completed a residency in internal medicine and pediatrics at the University of Michigan Medical Center.
You can book an appointment online with Dr. Gill today! Click here to schedule your appointment online.