Your Master Checklist of Doctors You Need to See (and How Often)
With controversies over health care legislation, constant breaking news about drugs and pharmaceuticals, and a growing collective concern over meeting our self-care needs, you’d think that getting regular check-ups would be high on most of our priority lists. But between tracking down GPs and specialists in your insurance network, scheduling appointments that don’t conflict with other obligations, and getting up the courage to ask about that weird health symptom that’s been plaguing you, many of us push our own personal health to the back of our minds. We’re helping you break that cycle and step up to the #adulting plate by laying out the five health professionals you should be seeing on the reg — and why.
1. General Practitioner: Your GP should be a one-stop shop for making sure your bod is in proper working order. According to the CDC, more than half of all doctor’s visits made annually are to primary care physicians. The most common reason for getting to the doctor is for prescription medication, but that shouldn’t be the only reason you give your primary care physician a call.
By establishing a rapport with a general practitioner when you’re feeling well, you’ll get better care and feel more comfortable going in when you’re ill. Under the Affordable Care Act, insurance carriers are mandated to cover one well visit per year as “preventative care.” Take advantage of this provision by stopping by your GP once annually for a check-up on your vitals, vaccine boosters, and routine blood work.
2. Gynecologist: For years, conventional medical wisdom advised women to check in with their gynecologist for a wellness check and pelvic exam once per year, and the hallmark of this exam was the yearly Pap smear test. But these guidelines are currently being reevaluated — according to Harvard Health, it may be time to throw them out the window. While a yearly Pap smear can’t harm you, it may be unnecessary if your results have come back normal for three years in a row. And once you’re over the age of 30, the recommendation decreases from annual to bi-annual Pap smears, anyway.
For now, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) still recommends keeping an appointment with the gyno during each calendar year. This might still be the smartest course of action, as it gives you an opportunity to have your breasts checked for abnormalities and discuss any sexual health concerns with your provider. Dr. Renjie Chang, a practicing OB/GYN and women’s health advocate, agrees with this course of action for several reasons. She says, “There are many early indicators of endometriosis, ovarian cysts, uterine fibroids, and cervical cancer. Early detection can make a huge difference in outcome.” Citing some examples of symptoms we might be tempted to ignore, she continues, “An overactive bladder could be an early sign of interstitial cystitis, which leads to chronic pelvic pain. Even something as minor as bad odor could indicate bacterial vaginosis, which, left untreated, can cause premature birth. The earlier something is found, the easier the treatment becomes.”
3. Dentist: To keep your teeth gleaming white — and get an early jump on dental conditions like gum disease and cavities — it’s recommended that you visit the dentist for a cleaning once every six months. If this is something you’d be tempted to skip, perhaps this will make your reconsider: Some studies link dental care to better quality of life and improved health overall. Twice a year is the ideal, and annual is the bare minimum to hop in the dentist’s chair.
4. Optometrist: If you wear prescription glasses or contact lenses, you’re probably used to visiting the optometrist once per year to get that prescription renewed. But if you’ve never had impaired vision, it might be hard to come to terms with it; in fact, you might not even notice. As we age, the clarity of our vision decreases gradually, which can affect our ability to read, drive, and perform at work. It can also give you migraines. That’s why a simple vision test once every other year is a good idea. You’ll also be tested for glaucoma during this exam and answer questions about your family history.
5. Mental Health Professional: Visiting a therapist doesn’t have to be reserved for times of crisis. You should have a psychiatrist, psychologist, or licensed counselor on your list of preferred medical professionals so that when you need one, you’ve got one in your contacts. You might not feel like you need to see a therapist at the moment, and that’s great! But there’s nothing wrong with checking in to get in touch with what’s going on with your heart, soul, and spirit.
Carolyn Wagner, a licensed professional counselor and psychotherapist practicing in Wilmette, IL, put it this way: “People often think that something has to be wrong to seek out a therapist, but that’s simply not the case. Therapy can help keep you from getting to a place where something seems or feels wrong. Much like your annual well visit to your physician, therapists can help you assess how things are going in your life, identify areas for potential problems, and provide ideas for how to prevent those problems from coming to fruition.”
It also means knowing where to find help when you need it. Wagner adds, “[Well visits] also establish a relationship with a therapist so that if you do find yourself having difficulty in the future, it’s easier for you to reach out for help.” Mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety can manifest as physical pain if left untreated, and times of career transition, big relationship changes, and childbirth (read: ages 21-35) tend to be especially fraught with worry and instability. Consider your mental hygiene to be as essential as any other part of your body, and get thee to a psychologist who can assess your state of mind.
The easiest way to stop putting off seeing the doctor is to pick up the phone and make an appointment. Figure out the rest — whether you’ll need time off, whether or not your insurance will cover the cost of your care, etc. — later. By getting on the books with the doctors you need to see, you’re making a commitment to yourself that will pay off for years.
Have you made a commitment to be more intentional about your health? Tell us on Twitter at @BritandCo!
(Illustration via Torii Burnett)