Your Guide to Planning This Year's Doctor Visits
During the first weeks of the year, after making a few resolutions, many people mark their calendars for vacations, holiday weekends, and other events. If January is a good time to get the calendar organized, it’s an even better time plan out medical appointments in advance for you and your family.
Few people look forward to annual physicals, dental exams, eye exams, or other medical appointments. But having doctor visits organized far ahead of time can bring convenience and peace of mind, making medical appointments less stressful. The following guide offers tips for organizing a personal health care calendar, plus a few strategies to make doctor visits go more smoothly.
- Annual physical: Your doctor needs the information from a physical exam to recommend needed exercise, changes in diet, and whether to begin or continue medications. The care team also may spot serious conditions or new medical risks.
- Seasonal allergies: Sometimes spring arrives early, so an appointment during the winter to see your doctor and/or get refills on seasonal allergy medications may save you some misery.
- Vaccination: Get a flu shot in October every year. Many clinics and medical centers require no appointments, but this should be on your health care calendar as a reminder. If your vacation plans involve exotic locales and overseas travel, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website to see if vaccinations are mandatory at your destination.
- Dental visit: Every six months for teeth cleaning and oral exam
- Vision appointment: If your eyes are healthy and vision is good, you should still have a complete exam by your ophthalmologist once in your 20s and twice in your 30s. The American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends that adults get a complete eye examination at age 40. This is when early signs of disease or changes in vision may appear.
Many parents find that getting the kids’ doctor visits lined up for the year first makes it easier to plan their own appointments. Here are the basics:
- Well-child visits/annual checkups: In most cases, infant care staff and pediatricians organize these visits for parents because they follow a child’s developmental stages. The main idea is to make sure you plan your own, or other family members’ medical visits, around this existing schedule.
- Vaccinations: Appointments for immunizations or a sports physical can be made early. Some schools allow for these visits to be done long before the school year starts.
- Eye screenings and eye exams: Avoid the back-to-school rush and schedule an eye exam early in the summer. Even if they don’t show signs of eye problems, all children should have their vision checked at least once between age three and five. Learn more about children’s eye exams here.
Teens age 15 to 17 should see a doctor or nurse for a “well-child visit” once a year. A full checkup allows providers to determine if a teenager is healthy and developing normally. The doctor or nurse can help catch any problems early, when they may be easier to treat.
Just for Women
- Gynecologist: Includes Pap smear, pelvic exam, clinical breast exam, and, for those with a new sex partner, screenings for sexually transmitted diseases. Women with more than one sexual partner should have a Pap smear and STD tests every six months.
- Mammogram: All women over age 40, as well as some younger individuals if indicated by family or personal history or other reasons, should have an annual screening evaluation.
- Bone density: Women 50 and older should have a bone density scan, with routine testing starting at menopause. Women with small frames, who are underweight, or have a family history of osteoporosis should have a scan after age 45.
Just for Men
Men 40 and older should have annual rectal exam and a colonoscopy every five years.
- Prostate Cancer Screening: Men ages 50 and older should be screened during their annual physical exam. A blood test measures a biomarker called prostate-specific antigen (PSA), which can identify the risk of prostate cancer. Men with a greater-than-average risk of prostate cancer (based on family history or ethnicity, race, and ancestry) should begin discussing screening options with their doctor at age 40.
Screenings as You Get Older
A milestone birthday can serve as a health care reminder, because screenings for certain medical conditions becomes necessary in advanced age. The need for tests and screenings varies by age and sex. For example, men are at somewhat greater risk for colorectal cancer, while women are at much greater risk for osteoporosis. If you are 65 or older, talk to your primary care doctor about which screenings may be needed as you reach certain milestones. Learn more about screenings and tests here.
Strategies for Stress-Free Appointments
- Things change: Check your pre-scheduled appointments. You may have scheduled a visit for an annual checkup at your previous visit. Take a look at that day now to see if it conflicts with new work, school, or travel plans.
- Virtual visits: Many practitioners are adopting virtual care models and apps so that patients can “visit” using a computer or smart device. At UAB Medicine, some clinic visits are available through UAB eMedicine, our telehealth system, which allows UAB Medicine providers to remotely perform basic physical exams, diagnose common medical conditions, manage complex care, and provide treatment plans. Learn more about UAB Medicine’s Scheduled Clinic Video Visits.
- Avoid the rush: For many clinics, there are more appointments from October through December than during the late summer back-to-school rush or during the peak flu season of January-February. Take advantage when possible.
- The buddy system: Some doctor visits require that you have a friend or family member drive you to and from the clinic, due to the effects of sedation, eye dilation, or other procedures. Check with your designated driver about their schedule before you make the appointment.
- Go early: The earliest hours of the morning tend to have fewer appointments. Booking a morning appointment also means that your provider is less likely to be running behind after a full day of seeing patients.
- Over share: Knowledge is power, especially with health care. Patients often leave out information during a 15-minute talk with a nurse or doctor. Make a bullet list on an index card (or in the notes app on your mobile device) of all the things you need to tell your doctor. This includes those new aches and pains that don’t bother you much and that one dizzy spell that seemed like no big deal. Include current medications and dosages, or better still, bring the bottles with you.
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