Maybe you wanted to stay out of health care settings during the pandemic. Maybe you’ve been focused on your kids’ online learning or taking care of a loved one. Maybe your job – and your health insurance – changed in the past year. Or maybe you just haven’t gotten around to it yet. Is now the time to schedule health checks?
No matter what your reason, after an extremely unusual year you’re probably overdue, or nearly due, for some health checks, shots and screenings.
Specifically, the kind of health checks that can keep you healthier in the long term. The kind that pack in so much preventive power that national law says your insurance company has to make many of them free. The kind that can help you avoid future health problems – or spot them early.
The kind of health care where procrastination has a price.
Here’s a list of some of the most important health checks and doctor’s appointments to make. Keep in mind a lot of people have been delaying care, so if you call or email your doctor or dentist today, it may be months before the next non-urgent appointment is available. But getting that appointment on the books is an important first step.
Start by scheduling a visit with your primary care provider
If you haven’t checked in with your main primary care provider since before the pandemic, now’s the time to get an appointment scheduled with the doctor, nurse practitioner or physician assistant at the clinic you consider your “medical home.”
Whether adults need an annual ‘checkup’ like children do is the subject of debate. The clinic may ask you to start with a virtual visit, via your computer or smartphone. But some services must be done in person, such as tests to spot early signs of high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol and other things that can grow into bigger problems and risks over time if they don’t get attention.
Going to a clinic or hospital in person is safe – whether or not you’ve been vaccinated against COVID-19 yet. Wear a mask, follow social distancing recommendations, but feel confident that your health care team knows how to protect you from coronavirus.
Tell your doctor or other health provider about your pandemic-related concerns:
Many people have gained weight, used more alcohol, tobacco or drugs, had problems sleeping, or felt more depressed, anxious or abused by a partner during the pandemic. If you’re one of them, bring it up at your appointment – or better yet, mention it when you call or send a message requesting an appointment, so your provider can prioritize that topic in your visit.
At your visit, work with your provider to make a plan for eating healthier; exercising more; cutting back on smoking, drinking and using other substances; and improving your mental well-being or getting help for serious issues including relationship issues.
If you have gained weight, consider asking your provider for a blood test for diabetes. If your results show you are at risk for diabetes, you may qualify for help with a behavioral weight loss program that can prevent diabetes.
Other reasons to make an appointment with your primary care doctor or other provider soon:
A regular checkup is also important if you have a chronic condition, if you take multiple prescription drugs and supplements, or you have a family history of a serious illness or sudden death at younger ages. Your primary care provider can also write referrals for you to be seen by specialist physicians. Keep in mind that many insurance plans require a referral before you can see a specialist.
Other highly important health tests include checking your blood for signs of a “silent” hepatitis C infection (recommended for most adults), referring you for a bone density scan to check for osteoporosis if you’re a post-menopausal woman or older man, screening you for depression, and tests for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).
Go to the dentist and get your teeth cleaned and gums checked:
All adults should see a dentist or dental hygienist at least once a year, and preferably twice – so if you haven’t gone since the pandemic started, you’re definitely overdue.
If you’ve had tooth or jaw pain, or bleeding gums, now’s the time to get an appointment in the books. And not just because of your mouth – poor gum and periodontal health has been associated with worsening cardiovascular health, diabetes and pregnancy-related problems. Dentists can also spot early signs of damage from tooth grinding related to stress.
Get your eyes checked:
If you wear glasses or contact lenses, and you haven’t had an optometrist check your prescription since before the pandemic, it’s time to get an appointment. If you’re over 50, you should also get checked for glaucoma. And if you’ve been working from home and the computer screen is looking a little fuzzy, an eye specialist can advise about that, too. If you have diabetes, regular eye exams are especially important, to look for changes in your retina.
Get your hearing checked:
As we get older, our hearing can worsen – and many people don’t even realize it. Although the national Preventive Services Task Force doesn’t strongly recommend regular hearing screenings or tests for adults, you may still want to get a “baseline” test done, especially if you’re in your 50s to early 60s.
If you have noticed any issues with your hearing, or someone else has said they’re concerned about your hearing, tell your doctor – there may be a chance to get a hearing test covered by insurance.
If you also see a specialist for a chronic condition, now is the time to follow up:
If you already had been seeing a specialist before the pandemic – for instance, to help you manage your diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, lung problems, digestive issues or other condition – you should check in with them now, too. Don’t assume they’re going to contact you to make sure you catch up with blood draws and other lab tests that monitor how you’re doing. Call or email their office to ask if you should make an appointment for health checks or get bloodwork done.
A pharmacist can help you manage your meds:
Many people don’t realize that many pharmacists offer appointments where they can go over all the medicines, vitamins, minerals and herbal supplements you take.
This kind of medication review can spot opportunities to optimize doses, save money and avoid risky drug interactions. But many adults who take multiple medications and supplements haven’t taken advantage having their pharmacists help them manage their medications. If you have Medicare, your drug plan may cover this, too.