Preparing for your health check-up

Jun 27, 2021


When was the last time you visited the doctor? If you’re having a hard time remembering, you’re probably due for an appointment. No matter your age, gender or overall health, it’s important to schedule a check-up at least once a year.

Where do I go for an annual exam?

The first step to your yearly check-up is finding a primary care provider you trust. Most primary care providers are family practitioners or internal medicine specialists. Women may also receive check-up care from their OB/GYN. Many adults also establish a relationship with an advanced practice provider, such as a nurse practitioner or physician assistant.

If you haven’t connected with a primary care provider, you may:

  • Check your health insurance plan. Most insurance plans have a list of doctors or medical offices considered “in-network.” These options will have the lowest out-of-pocket costs.
  • Talk with your friends. Word-of-mouth referrals can be one of the most trustworthy sources. Ask friends, church members, family members or community groups which healthcare providers they’ve had positive experiences with.
  • Ask your current healthcare team. You may have visited a cardiologist, physical therapist or other specialty provider but don’t see any primary care provider regularly. Ask your existing contacts who they recommend. You may be able to get a referral or find someone in the same network.
  • Search locally. Do you drive by the same hospital or medical office every day? You may check to see if they carry your insurance or are accepting new patients. You can also often find a primary care provider through a simple online search.

What happens during an annual exam?

Once you’ve found your primary care provider, the annual exam is an opportunity to take stock of your overall health. Your visit usually involves checking your:

  • Health history. You and your provider may discuss past health issues, current lifestyle habits and your overall goals. Also come prepared to let your provider know about any relevant information in your family medical history, such as having a parent with heart disease or a sibling with diabetes.
  • Vital signs. Your provider typically takes your blood pressure, heart rate, temperature and respiration rate. All of these data points give your provider information about your overall health.
  • Lung and heart exam. Your provider uses a stethoscope to listen to your heartbeat and lungs. The sounds your provider hears can give clues about possible heart disease, lung disease or other conditions.
  • Head and neck exam. This is the part where you stick out your tongue and say, “ahhh.” Your provider looks at your teeth, gums, throat and tonsils. They may also examine your ears, nose, sinuses or lymph nodes on your neck.

How much does it cost?

Most insurance plans cover the cost of an annual exam. Before you visit your healthcare provider, confirm that their office accepts your medical insurance. If you have Medicare, you may qualify for an Annual Wellness Visit. At these appointments, you and your provider discuss your overall health and risk factors. Then, you create a wellness plan to help you stay on track to being your healthiest self.

Why is an annual exam important?

When we think about going to the doctor, we often think about treating an illness. But annual exams are part of preventive care. Instead of treating a condition that has already developed, your provider’s goal is to prevent a condition from ever developing in the first place.

If you do have existing health conditions, your primary care provider can help you understand how to best take care of yourself. For example, if you have diabetes, you may need specific instructions about what and how often to eat. If you have heart disease, your provider may give you specific recommendations about exercise. Whatever your baseline health is, the annual exam is a crucial tool for improving or maintaining it.