Health and well-being 2022: back to the doctor
We’ve probably all heard the old adage, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away.” But, even if you’ve eaten an entire tree of the fruit, that shouldn’t keep you away from annual wellness checks.
At the start of the pandemic, access to regular doctor’s appointments was limited as elective care took a back seat to COVID. But even when doctor‘s surgeries reopened for routine care, many patients were wary of public places, especially those where they might encounter sick people. This has resulted in many routine checks and tests being delayed, rejected or overlooked.
Now, more than two years after “coronavirus” and “COVID” became part of our vocabulary, doctors say it’s time to come back to see your primary care doctor for an in-person physical exam. Dr. Dionna Lomax, a family medicine specialist at Specialty Physicians of Illinois, LLC in Homewood as part of Franciscan Health, said the delay in people seeking medical care has led to undiagnosed health issues or worsening of certain terms.
“I think the biggest negative effect of patients postponing care is that we miss out on chronic diseases or have some that get worse, like diabetes, high blood pressure, and asthma,” she said. She sees patients coming back to see her a year and a half to two years later with worsening symptoms or with new problems that are not related to COVID.
Why annual wellness checkups are so important
A physical exam once a year, also known as a checkup, is essential to staying healthy. Even if there doesn’t seem to be a medical problem that needs a doctor’s attention, it’s during these visits that doctors are able to recognize signs of health problems and do screenings that would indicate that additional testing may be required.
“The first thing to do is look around and find a primary care doctor for a wellness visit. During this visit, we will examine vital signs, take a temperature, check pulse and blood pressure and talk about your medical and family history and ways to reduce the risk of diabetes and high blood pressure,” he said. she stated.
“When we start from there, we can go through different ways to improve your health. And it’s not necessarily a drug. Dietary changes and lifestyle changes will also be discussed during your wellness visit.
During an annual health check, Lomax said a doctor will also perform a mental health screening. “A lot of people’s mental health has been affected,” she said. During a well visit, a doctor can assess whether therapy or medication would be beneficial.
Most insurance policies will cover an annual wellness visit, she noted.
Role of telehealth
Telehealth has been a good way for patients to stay in touch with their doctor at times when they may not have felt safe away from home when COVID risk was at its peak. Lomax said it was also helpful for acute care. And it’s something she continues to use regularly in her practice.
For someone who has been diagnosed with high blood pressure, for example, the patient can then monitor their blood pressure from home and follow up virtually regarding medications and management. But the key is to get that diagnosis when the patient comes into the office.
“I have a patient who is over 100 and so when she can’t come in, her family arranges a virtual visit and it works really well,” she said.
But telehealth isn’t meant to completely replace face-to-face visits. Visiting your doctor gives him the opportunity to get to know you a little better.
“It’s about having a conversation and having your doctor get to know you and being comfortable with you,” she said. “I think in-person visits are very important for this and should be done once a year for those who are in good health.”
What not to miss
Beyond these regular annual checks, there are screenings that are usually done when certain age markers should not be overlooked. When women reach the age of 40, that’s usually when a first mammogram is recommended. This time frame could change based on family history – and again, discuss that family history is an important part of annual wellness checks. Women in their 20s and 30s should also be seen for regular pap smears to screen for cervical cancer.
“Women at this age usually see a gynecologist who might act as primary care when you have babies,” Lomax said.
For men, screening for prostate cancer is usually recommended at age 40 – or earlier if other factors warrant it. Colonoscopies are now recommended at age 45 for both women and men.
“There are gray areas with screenings based on risk factors, ethnicity, family history, or symptoms that appear on an annual visit to indicate that it may need to be done sooner” , said Lomax.
What else can you do?
If you haven’t been to the doctor since before March 2020, take the time to make that appointment and write it in ink on your calendar. If you’re seeing a new doctor, it might be time to take notes on your medical and family history.
And if you’re unsure about your family medical history, it might be time to do a little digging. Ask family members about illnesses or disorders that are common in your family and note the causes of death of grandparents, parents and their siblings, especially if they died at an early age.
Knowing what your high risks are can help you recognize the signs if something seems off. Lomax noted that women who had gestational diabetes during pregnancy were at a higher risk of developing diabetes later.
“We have ways to check if you’re pre-diabetic and can give you treatment plans for lifestyle changes,” she said.
A blood pressure monitor is something that Lomax says is good to have around the house. They can be purchased inexpensively online or at pharmacies. They are easy to use and can indicate if intervention is needed.
But taking a wellness tour is your first step.
“I think we’re at a point where the offices are very safe,” she said. “It’s a very good time to come in person and see a doctor for a physical exam.”
Lomax also noted that a big thing you can do for overall good health is to get your COVID shot.
“I encourage vaccination against COVID-19. Even though the numbers are low, the risk is still very real for (those with) serious problems and I always encourage patients to get vaccinated. If you have received the initial vaccination dose, but you have not yet received a booster, a third injection is recommended six months after the second dose for the general public – and for those who are severely immunocompromised, a fourth dose is recommended, said Lomax..
Health and Wellness Stories 2022