Just how often are you actually supposed to go to the doctor?
If you’re not a baby (congrats if you are and can read this), then you only need to go to your primary care physician (PCP) for a check-up once a year. Not everyone does this, but you should! Part of the problem is that someone will wait until they get sick to go to the doctor. Then they think, “Oh, I don’t need to go back for a check-up because if anything was wrong, my doctor would have said something.” That’s not always the case, though. While most doctors care immensely about their patients, you included ( 😉), they are overburdened by paperwork, busy schedules, and many other barriers to optimal care. Doctors can typically, unfortunately, only focus on why a patient came to the office for that visit.
The annual check-up is a great opportunity to catch things before they turn into problems. For example, checking blood pressure is important because it is known as the “silent killer.” People with high blood pressure don’t feel any symptoms, but it can do severe damage to internal organs. Primary care physicians help prevent bad stuff from happening. They are also a good central person for coordinating health care. Health care providers don’t talk all the time, so things can get missed (two doctors put you on the same kind of medication, etc.). Your PCP is the one provider who is supposed to connect the pieces and manage all of your care. Some insurers won’t even let you see a specialist without a referral, which is where a PCP comes in as well. Also, you are usually able to build a strong relationship with your PCP because they get to know you over time, and that will be very helpful as you work together on your health goals.
Some women have a bonus reason for why they don’t go their PCP for a yearly check-up (and some don’t even have a PCP). They go to the gynecologist (GYN) every year, which is great! Keep doing that! But, make sure you have and go to a PCP, as well. Gynecologists provide spectacular reproductive healthcare, but they don’t usually have the time to focus on your entire body. So, while your reproductive health is up to snuff, you could be missing something related to your heart, stomach, wrist, or any other part of your body. Yes, it’s annoying to have to go to so many doctors’ appointments every year, but if we don’t have our health, then what do we have?
Cost and access to care are barriers more often than they should be. The good news is that under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (endearingly called Obamacare by some and resentfully called Obamacare by others), patients gained a little extra protection. Subsidies were created for people to buy health insurance, and some states expanded Medicaid to cover more people. So, more people have insurance. On top of that, many preventive services must be covered by all insurance plans. Some plans still come with a co-pay, but it is usually a pretty reasonable amount. If you are concerned about costs, call the office and ask. You may have to do a little shopping around, but it’s worth it to not break the bank!
There are so many different kinds of health care providers, and depending on the area you live in, there are usually many of the same kind of provider, so you should be able to find all of the providers you need, and you should even be able to go to one you like!
Simple chart that summarizes healthcare providers you should see:
*This could change based on individual conditions, but these are the bare minimums
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Header image illustrated by Marcy Gooberman
Evan Gooberman is a third-year medical student at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine, the Chair of the Alan Z. Gartzman, D.O. Memorial Fund, and the proud brother of our fabulous Lead Designer, Marcy Gooberman.