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The Best Time to See Your Doctor

About The Author - Meet Our Providers
About the Author: Jennifer Stephens, DO, is an internist with LVPG Internal Medicine–3080 Hamilton Boulevard.

You might think about calling your doctor only when you’re sick, but the most important time to do so is when you’re well. That’s because preventing a disease is 1,000 times more effective than treating one that’s already taken hold. The sooner I’m able to identify a medical problem, the sooner I have an opportunity to help you fix it.

Just as importantly, when you visit the office regularly, I get the chance to know you better. When I know what your “normal” is, it’s easier for me to spot symptoms that are outside your norm.

Here’s an example. Let’s say I have a female patient who exercises regularly and eats well. She seems the picture of good health. But during her annual visit, I notice she’s lost some weight. She also mentions a new symptom: constipation. Because she comes in regularly, I can tell that something just isn’t right, so I’ll run some tests. Those tests might find a serious problem like cancer. I’ve personally seen examples like this, where regular wellness visits allow us to catch someone’s medical condition early, when it’s more treatable.

Types of wellness visits

Depending on your age, there are two kinds of wellness visits.

If you’re under age 65, a wellness visit allows us to screen for diseases such as colon and prostate cancer, and to ensure your vaccinations are up to date. Depending on your age and your vaccine history, you may be due for a tetanus booster or the shingles vaccine. If you’re younger than age 40 and healthy, schedule a wellness check at least every five years. If you’re older than age 40 or already diagnosed with a disease, consider getting one annually. Under the Affordable Care Act, wellness visits are fully covered by insurance.

If you’re age 65 or older, your Medicare plan covers an annual visit that includes a regular screening along with several health risk assessments that measure things like your cognitive health and memory. We’ll also talk to you about how to prevent falls at home. And we’ll review your medical history. Your Medicare wellness exam is an ideal time to discuss advance care planning. It’s important for us to know your end-of-life wishes so we can respect them.

Well visits are important for everyone, including people who are young and healthy. Even doctors like me get them. Physicians welcome the opportunity to promote health rather than treat disease. When I say that, I think I speak for every doctor I know.

Are You Due for a Vaccine?

Based on recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control, this chart lists what vaccines adults need. In addition to what is listed on this chart, your health care provider may recommend additional vaccines if you did not get them when you were younger, such as the HPV vaccine or MMR vaccine, or if you have certain risk factors.

AgeRange Flu Tetanus Shingles Pneumococcal
20 to 26 Once yearly Once every 10 years    
27-49 Once yearly Once every 10 years    
50-59 Once yearly Once every 10 years    
60-64 Once yearly Once every 10 years Once every five years  
65+ Once yearly Once every 10 years Once every five years One dose of PCV13 and at least one dose of the of PPSV23 vaccines.