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Health and wellness require more than an annual physical

By The Health News Team | December 14, 2023
Person getting their blood pressure taken

From the first weeks of our lives, many of us are brought to doctors’ offices for well-check visits, each offering an opportunity to receive appropriate vaccinations, medical screenings and exams. More importantly, every visit provides time for building a trusting relationship with your primary care doctor and learning when to seek care beyond a wellness check.

As you get older, the responsibility of health and wellness becomes a shared journey between yourself and your doctor. Your doctor is responsible for providing specific preventive health screenings, vaccines and health-promoting advice to keep you well.

However, according to Dr. Angie Neison, a board-certified family medicine, lifestyle medicine and culinary medicine doctor with Sharp Rees-Stealy Medical Group, these actions are only half of the story when it comes to true health and wellness. Many opportunities toward health and wellness lie in the activities of each day.

“The ‘once a year physical’ doesn’t necessarily paint a complete picture of one’s health,” Dr. Neison says. “While annual physicals can be a point of engagement with a patient's health, they can sometimes give a false impression that once you get a physical, you are done.”

The “action of wellness” is what is most important, says Dr. Neison.

“A periodic ‘wellness check-in’ with your primary care doctor or an advanced practice provider, such as a physician assistant, is preferable if you’re not already being seen regularly for other health conditions,” she says. “Wellness check-ins are a great way to make sure your screenings are up to date, and you are making necessary adjustments on your health journey.”

As your personal health advocate, you can expect your primary care doctor to be your partner in guiding you to treatment for general health conditions and injuries, immunizations, health and wellness resources, preventive care, routine checkups and, when needed, referrals to specialists. This can be done either through secure online patient portal messaging, virtual care visits or in-person visits.

“Once you know you are up to date on health screenings, making the daily choices that lead to health and wellness is what is most important,” Dr. Neison says. “Science shows the effectiveness of these healthy daily choices is the evidenced-based key to health and wellness.”

When should I see my doctor?

Anytime you’d like to discuss a health concern with your doctor, you’re encouraged to make a regular appointment. During these regular appointments — whether they are in person or virtual — your doctor will also review any needed preventive care services.

“The pandemic taught us that we can't put off health care,” Dr. Neison says. “Screenings are important and timely. Opportunities to address these can often occur at any regular visit without having to schedule a separate visit. This saves you time, money and helps you stay up to date with your health needs.”

For example, during a visit to discuss a concern, such as lower back discomfort, your doctor may also notice it’s time to get your cholesterol checked or schedule a mammogram screening. Important elements of health and wellness are incorporated into every appointment, with the care team working to ensure your health needs are met.

If you’re still unsure when you should make a regular appointment, Dr. Neison suggests scheduling a visit with your doctor:

  • When you are already sick

  • When you have a symptom that could indicate illness

  • To manage an ongoing or chronic condition

  • To check on effects of a new medication

  • For prenatal care

  • For lifestyle issues such as family planning, STD prevention and healthy eating — especially important for young adults

  • For other reasons based on your individual health needs

  • If you haven’t had health care for a long time

Who should have an annual in-person physical?

If you have not yet met your primary care doctor, it is important to schedule your first appointment. Dr. Neison says the most important element to managing your health is choosing and establishing a relationship with a primary care doctor to work with you to maintain your health and guide you when you feel sick.

Types of primary care doctors include:

  • Family practice doctors for patients of any age

  • Internal medicine doctors for adults

  • Pediatricians for kids and teens

  • OBGYNs for women or those assigned female at birth

It is recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics that all children from birth through age 18 have annual visits to their doctor. In addition, adults age 65 and older and individuals with chronic health conditions, such as diabetes or high blood pressure, should talk with their primary care doctor about whether an annual physical is right for them. Their requirements may be different, and they may even need to see their doctor or other care providers more than once a year.

“The bottom line is, preventive care services will be addressed during every visit with your doctor, so there is no need to wait for a specific wellness visit,” Dr. Neison says. “For adults with no known chronic illnesses or acute problems, it is reasonable to schedule a physical and at that time, you can discuss with your doctor how frequently you should be seen for an in-person physical.”

What is the best way for healthy people to manage their care?

Everyone should prioritize their health and wellness, Dr. Neison advises. Knowing your opportunities for preventive care is one important aspect of maintaining your health, she says, but checking in with your wellness — whether it’s daily, weekly or monthly — is going to help you maintain your health best.

“Eat well, move well, sleep well, connect with others and breathe well through the stressful times,” says Dr. Neison. “Wellness is an active dynamic process that requires daily mindful choices aiming for a healthy, fulfilling life. Talk with your doctor about what kind of care is right for you.”

Learn more about getting care at Sharp.

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