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January 16, 2019

New Year, Clean Slate: Six Appointments to Make in 2019  

Your Game Plan for Annual Preventative Care 

Joyce Knestrick, PhD, CRNP, FAANP

Managing your own health can be daunting and sometimes downright confusing. Even people who are diligent about preventative care often feel they aren’t doing enough or aren’t doing the right things. Many others know they should be doing more but frankly lack the time or motivation to fix problems that may or may not exist.    

Part of the problem is that most people are geared toward putting out the fires instead of preventing them. Further compounding the problem is the tendency of many to think they’re healthier than they are. A few years ago, an eye-opening study concluded that less than three percent of our population is actually healthy. If your skeptic alarm just went off, the study’s requirements for people to be classified as healthy were not very high. Researchers were simply looking for people who exercised for 30 minutes, five days a week; scored in the top 40 percent on the healthy eating index (or for the mathematicians out there, scored above a failing grade); had a body fat percentage that fell below overweight; and didn’t smoke. 

Don’t make the same mistake of overestimating your good health or assuming everything is fine just because you don’t have any nagging symptoms. Here’s a list of appointments to make this year to be proactive about your health. There is of course no one-size-fits-all manual, but this game plan will get you talking to the right experts about what you need to do to be healthy—and stay healthy. 

  1. Primary care provider (PCP). If you only make one appointment, it should be this one. Your PCP will give you a thorough checkup; screen for things like diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and cervical cancer; give you a flu shot or a shingles vaccine and write any necessary referrals. Moreover, your PCP will get to know you, delve into your family history and answer any burning questions you have about your well-being. People who see a PCP tend to live longer, healthier lives, so make this one a priority. If you don’t have a PCP, a nurse practitioner (NP) may be a great solution for you. NPs provide advanced primary, acute and specialty care for all types of patients. Visit NP Finder to find an NP near you.
  2. Dentist. Regular checkups help spot dental problems early, when they are easier (and more affordable) to treat. Just like cancer or high blood pressure, early detection of a cavity or gum disease can help stop the progression. In addition, 90 percent of systemic diseases, including diabetes, heart disease and leukemia, have oral symptoms like swollen gums or ulcers, so your dentist may be the first to diagnose a much more serious problem. Shoot for one dental visit a year at a minimum, and more frequent visits if you have problems. 
  3. Eye exam. Most people should have an eye exam every year or two, depending on their age, risk factors and whether they wear corrective lenses. A family history of eye diseases like glaucoma or macular degeneration, diabetes, previous eye injuries or surgeries could necessitate more frequent visits, so talk to your provider about what makes sense for you.  
  4. Radiologist. Starting at age 40, women should have the choice to get a mammogram, and by age 44, should be getting yearly screens. In fact, so long as a woman is in good health and expected to live another 10 years, she should be getting regular mammograms. Depending on your family history and genetics, you may need more frequent screens and possibly even an MRI in addition to your mammogram to be sure you catch signs of cancer early.  
  5. Dermatologist. According to the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, one in five people will develop skin cancer in their lifetime, and a simple skin check can be life-saving. The general rule of thumb is if you have a lot of moles (more than 50) or a family history of melanoma, you should be checked yearly. Fair skin, freckles, frequent sunburns or living in an area with frequent sun exposure are also reasons to get checked regularly. Talk to your dermatologist to determine a screening schedule that makes sense based on your skin type and personal risk factors.  
  6. Gynecologist. Starting at age 21, women should have a regular pelvic exam, Pap test and possibly even an HPV test to identify early signs of cervical cancer. Moreover, gynecological checkups are the time to address contraception, sexually transmitted diseases, menstruation and fertility, so don’t skip this specialty to address those types of concerns.

Prevention may seem time consuming, but addressing serious health problems is even more demanding and usually results in far worse outcomes. Make these six appointments today to ensure you cover your bases this year and live healthier for years to come!