4 important questions to ask during an annual wellness visit
An annual wellness visit is an opportunity to do more than get your vital signs checked. It may be a great time to talk to a primary care provider (PCP) about health goals — and come up with a plan to meet them.
These yearly visits have many benefits. People who go to their annual wellness visits are more likely to get breast cancer, colon cancer and memory issue screenings. They’re also more likely to stay up to date on their flu and pneumonia shots.1 Plus, they may save money on their future health costs.1
The key to making the most of an annual wellness visit? Knowing the right questions to ask, says Mary Valvano, M.D., chief medical officer at BetterNow Medicine. “This way, patients can better understand their health status and take proactive measures to help improve their quality of life,” she explains.
There are other benefits to asking questions. Unless you bring it up, the provider may assume you have the information you need about screening tests, for example.2 Your questions help providers learn what’s most important to you.2 Here are 4 important questions to have on your list, according to providers.
1. Is my weight affecting my health?3
Besides checking blood pressure, a provider will weigh you and measure your height. They’ll use these data points to calculate your body mass index (BMI). Your BMI can help tell the provider if you’re at a healthy weight or are underweight, overweight or obese.
That’s critical information. A healthy weight is important for overall well-being, says Dr. Valvano. It helps lower the risk of many conditions, including type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease.4
Yet beyond having you step on the scale, research shows many providers don’t bring up the topic of weight.5 If you’re concerned about your weight and how it may affect overall health, talk to your PCP. They can also provide input about healthy eating and exercise.
“The biggest drivers of health are lifestyle issues like diet, exercise, stress and alcohol use. These topics usually get less attention during patient visits because they’re so focused on medical-type issues,” says Michael Hochman, M.D., a physician in Los Angeles.
“These are valuable conversations to have,” Dr. Hochman explains. “People shouldn’t be shy about bringing them up if they have questions about it.” Besides, he adds, talking to your PCP may be motivating to make healthier choices. Even a little bit of advice can help people lose weight if they need to, research shows.6 After all, your PCP is a professional. They've seen and heard it all and are trained to address sensitive issues.
2. Am I up to date on all my vaccines?
Vaccines are particularly important for people 65 and older, because they typically have weaker immune systems. That means it can be harder to fight off infections. Vaccines may help save your life, or at least keep you out of the hospital.7
Even if a provider doesn’t have access to all your vaccination info, this question can open up a discussion about the ones you’re missing. In particular, ask the provider about these 3 vaccines:
- Influenza. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the flu shot is the best way to protect yourself from the flu. Get the flu shot every year by the end of October, if possible.8 It's especially important for people that are 65 or older, along with those with certain health conditions, because they may be at higher risk for serious complications. There are 3 high-dose vaccines recommended for older adults. They work better for people over 65 than the regular flu shot.8
- Shingles vaccine. Shingles may cause health issues, including nerve pain. But 2 doses of Shingrix prevents shingles more than 90% of the time in adults ages 50 and older. After 2 doses, this vaccine is complete.9
- Pneumococcal vaccine. This shot helps prevent pneumococcal disease, including pneumonia. For those who received it before age 65, another dose is needed. After 65, you may need 2 shots, a year apart. There are several available vaccines.10 Discuss with your provider which is right for you.
3. What screening tests do I need this year?
Screening tests may help catch diseases in their earliest stages, when they’re easiest to treat. People over the age of 65 need to check the following, but how often depends on the conditions you may already have. So it’s a good idea to check with a PCP about which ones you may need this year.11, 12
- Blood pressure
- Colorectal cancer screening
- Diabetes screening
- Bone density screening for women
4. What other providers may I need to see this year?
A PCP is the main collaborator for your overall health. But sometimes a specialist also needs to be seen. It’s important to schedule regular checkups with an eye doctor and dentist.
Here’s why: Even if your eyesight is 20/20, it’s important to have a complete eye exam every year after age 65.13 An eye doctor can help spot eye diseases like glaucoma or age-related macular degeneration before they damage your vision. Eye exams can also catch other health conditions, such as high blood pressure or diabetes.13
The same is true for dental exams. It’s important for a dentist to check your mouth and clean your teeth every 6 months. Regular dental exams keep your teeth and gums healthy.14
People may also need to see other specialists, such as a cardiologist for heart disease. A PCP can tell you what specialists to see, and when. A PCP can also coordinate your care — and can act as point person so all your providers are connected and communicating with one another. That’s why seeing a PCP every year is so important.