December 21, 2023
An annual wellness exam with your doctor can be easy to overlook, but it is essential for getting good care. Primary care providers – like internists, family medicine doctors, geriatricians and pediatricians – recommend having a wellness visit once a year.
Establishing care with a primary care provider (PCP) is especially important because they are your central point of contact in our patient-centered medical home. A PCP can manage your care among multiple specialists, coordinate recommendations and provide continuous assessment. Additionally, establishing a relationship with a PCP at the health system may mean you don’t have to schedule wellness visits as far in advance, can be seen more quickly when you’re sick and generally have better access to care.
What happens at a wellness visit?
A wellness visit is a conversation. These appointments last longer than sick visits because doctors want to get the full story of your health history and get caught up on anything that has happened since they last saw you.
Your doctor will also discuss whether you need to get any screenings, labs or blood tests done. Jennifer McRae, MD, internal medicine doctor at the health system, says that routine labs may not be required every year if you are healthy. However, if insurance covers preventive labs annually, your doctor may recommend getting them.
Speaking of prevention, there’s a lot of focus in wellness visits about what good health habits you’ve established and how to stay healthy.
“With a younger person, we’re identifying things that might be a risk in their personal or family history and trying to figure out how to keep them healthy,” says Dr. McRae. “As people age, visits become focused on making sure we address risk factors – like treating high blood pressure or high cholesterol.”
Finally, discussing mood and mental wellness is an important part of these visits.
When to schedule a wellness visit
Doctors recommend scheduling one wellness visit a year. If possible, schedule next year’s visit at the end of your wellness appointment. At a minimum, you should call 90 days in advance of when you’d like to schedule your visit.
Depending on your health history, you may need additional wellness visits. For example, you might need to schedule a routine gynecologic exam with your OB-GYN or midwife. Children may need more than one wellness visit per year with their pediatrician to receive immunizations and well-child care. It's important to talk with your provider at the wellness visit about any additional appointments you might need to schedule.
How to stay well between visits
You don’t need to be an athlete. Something as simple as walking for exercise is incredibly important for your mental and cardiovascular health.
Smoking is a tremendous risk factor for cancers, chronic illnesses, lung disease and heart disease. Quitting smoking improves your health immediately but is also important for preventing future illnesses.
To know whether your medications are effectively managing your symptoms, or causing any side effects, you need to be taking them in the correct dose at the required times.
There’s a lot of health information circulated on social media and other places. Your doctors want you to ask about medications, their side effects and any other concerns. Your doctor will not be offended by any questions.
Taking care of your teeth between wellness visits is a great way to care for your health overall. If you have issues with your teeth, it may affect your ability to eat healthy foods. Not eating well can lead to problems like high blood pressure. So, maintaining good dental health is very important to preventing other health complications.
Current patients of the health system can log in to MyChart to see notes from their previous appointments and to schedule a wellness visit. Also use it to update your list of current medications, allergies and family history. Make sure it stays accurate and note any recent changes.
“Primary care providers are there to try to help you feel the best that you can and live the best life – have the relationships and do the activities that are important to you,” says Dr. McRae. “We want to see you, and we want to help you.”