A birthday, anniversary, or even the deadline for renewing your vehicle registration. What do they have in common?
They are tasks that come around once a year, and whether you like it or not, they need to be done.
Add annual exams, an important part of your self-care, to that must-to-do list. These yearly physicals are essential to a person’s well being, as they can afford the opportunity to discuss any health concerns with a primary care provider, as well as serve as a time to focus on the patient’s overall health, rather than a specific problem.
Renee Harju, FNP-C, a family medicine provider with Trinity Health, notes that when patients come in with a particular concern, the visit focuses on resolving that issue.
“If somebody comes in for a sore throat or a check on hypertension, you’re not looking at when they had their last colonoscopy or mammogram,” she says. “People come in off and on for various things and the exam is focused. You’re not looking at the primary and secondary prevention aspects of a patient’s care.”
Without annual exams, “those diagnostics tend to fall through the cracks,” she adds.
Through the annual exam, a primary care provider can order preventative tests such as colonoscopies, mammograms, Pap smears, eye exams, bone density tests, and prostate-specific antigen tests (which test for cancer).
“If they don’t do their annual physicals, they’re usually not getting checked,” Harju says.
Annual exams also serve as a reminder- for both patient and their primary care provider – of previous diagnostics performed and “to see if any follow-ups indicated were completed,” Harju says. “For example, a carotid ultrasound was done, and the recommendation was to repeat it every year. Most of the time, patients forget about these things that need follow-ups.”
Immunizations also fall through the cracks, she adds, and during the annual exam, these can be reviewed.
Annual exams also serve as a good time for a primary care provider to offer education to the patient, Harju says. “If a patient comes in with a sore throat, you won’t be reminding them to do their breast exams, or to discuss signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer.”
Annual physicals allow organized patterns for labs and diagnostics, she explains. This helps to prevent redundancy, which saves the patient’s time.
“I recommend all my patients have an annual exam every year, regardless of the age,” she says. Just like for adults, annual exams for children can include catching up on immunizations, identifying risk factors for further issues, and education.
Harju believes many people do no get their annual exams because of time constraints. The length of the annual exam depends on the patient’s health history and complexity of their current medical conditions, Harju says. Because of everything that’s covered, it is a more intensive visit, as opposed to just coming in for 15 minutes.
“Everyone is busy. If the patient feels well, they don’t necessarily feel it is a necessity to go,” she says. But preventative care is vital, and annual exams play a big role in early identification of multiple medical conditions. “I’d rather catch a breast mass on an exam or a mammogram, rather than a patient saying, ‘I have left breast pain.’”
“The big thing is to catch things and catch them early,” she says.
Need a doctor?
To find a primary care provider, call Trinity Health’s DR4U helpline at 701-857-3748 (DR4U).