In Your Prime: How often should I visit my doctor?

Patients can work together with their doctors to develop screening schedules that are customized to their particular profiles. These schedules can be modified as health history information changes or as patients age. Doctors can dial back or increase health visits as needed.
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Patients can work together with their doctors to develop screening schedules that are customized to their particular profiles. These schedules can be modified as health history information changes or as patients age. Doctors can dial back or increase health visits as needed.

Routine health checkups are a key part of staying healthy. Older adults may feel like they’re always visiting one doctor or another. But what is an acceptable frequency for doctor appointments?

The answer isn’t always so cut and dry, and many health professionals have mixed feelings even among themselves over the magic number. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends adults over the age of 65 visit the doctor more than twice as often as 18- to 44-year-olds.

According to Paul Takahashi, a physician at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., adults should see their primary care physicians at least once a year to make sure diseases are being properly managed and to stay current on preventative screenings.

Visiting the doctor more frequently does not necessarily add up to better health, and it actually can do the opposite. Dr. Peter Abadir, an associate professor of medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, says frequent visits to health facilties where sick people congregate puts one at a higher risk of illness or infection. Visiting the doctor only when necessary is one way to avoid risky exposure.

Doctor visit frequency is not a one-size-fits-all answer. A yearly physical or checkup is a given, even for people who are healthy. People with a family history of certain conditions, like sleep disorders, cancer, high blood pressure, and other conditions, may need to see a doctor more frequently than those with no such histories. In addition, patients may need referrals to certain specialists who work together to provide an overall health plan. That can increase the number of appointments and shorten the intervals between them. Johnson Memorial Health offers some statistics.

--- People visit the doctor four times a year on average.

--- Studies show that poor or uninsured people prolong the time between doctor's visits.

--- Individuals with high blood pressure may need to see the doctor four times a year to ensure medications are working properly.

--- Patients on dialysis see the doctor several times a week.

Dr. Jennifer Caudle, a family physician and assistant professor at Rowan University School of Osteopathic Medicine in Stratford, NJ, says too often people visit the doctor only when they are really sick. That works to their disadvantage because the appointment will focus only on treating the illness instead of addressing other preventative care and screenings. Balance is necessary in regard to health care.

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