Why You Need To See A Doctor, Even If You're "Healthy"

See_Your_Doctor_SlideshowIllustrated by Mary Schafrath.
Young adults are viewed so often as pictures of health and wellness in our society that insurance companies have coined the term “young invincibles” to describe them. To an extent, the name is accurate: Young adults (as a collective) experience fewer chronic medical conditions than older adults, and approximately 30% of young adults have not seen a doctor in the past 12 months.
Of course, the reality is that no one is truly "invincible" — not even those considered to be young and healthy. Chronic diseases such as heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, and cancer do not develop overnight, and can in fact begin many years before they're diagnosed. Meanwhile, around 23% of young adults visit an emergency department (ED) annually. Accidents can happen to anyone, while a host of factors — including genetics, diet, and exercise habits — can start affecting our health long before we're even aware of it. In short, it's never too early to take control of your health by making regular visits to the doctor a habit.
In addition to brushing twice a day, eating kale chips, or squeezing in those daily workouts, yearly visits to a doctor should be part of any health plan. (Need help choosing a doctor? Check out this resource.)
See_Your_Doctor_Slideshow2Illustrated by Mary Schafrath.
General Health Maintenance
Although not fun or sexy, keeping up-to-date with recommended vaccinations and screenings is a fundamental part of good health. Many people faithfully go to the dentist every six months for a cleaning and exam, and the doctor should be considered in the same light. Regular medical checkups are akin to changing the oil in a car, rotating the tires, or getting a 50,000-mile tune-up.
Vaccinations not only prevent some serious diseases, such as polio, hepatitis B, measles, mumps, rubella, and even cervical cancer, but also provide “herd immunity” to those who cannot get vaccinated or who have weakened immune systems. Screenings can lead to early identification and treatment of underlying diseases such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and cancer. Early detection is important because it not only improves the overall prognosis of the disease, but also provides the best opportunity for a cure.
Knowing Your Numbers
Do you know what your blood pressure or cholesterol are? More than 1/5 of Americans have never had their cholesterol checked. Given that 71 million (or 33.5%) of American adults have elevated “bad” cholesterol, and that having high total cholesterol approximately doubles the risk of heart disease, it's important to get a jump on these numbers. Meanwhile, one in every three American adults (or 31%) has high blood pressure, which is a known risk factor for heart attacks, strokes, and kidney disease.
Getting your blood pressure and cholesterol checked provides a baseline to compare to over time, so it's valuable to obtain these numbers while you're still considered young and healthy. If nothing else, you can print out the numbers and use them as motivation to be healthier and beat them next year.
Creating Your Medical Record
Annual visits to the doctor are a chance to update your personal medical record. Most hospitals and clinics utilize an electronic medical record (EMR) to store health information. These records are important because they are readily available to affiliated hospitals in the event of an emergency (unaffiliated institutions will still have to request records).
No one plans for a car accident, loss of consciousness, or an emergency room visit. However, should these issues occur, previously documented health information is accessible to emergency department physicians. This can reduce unnecessary testing and prevent allergic reactions, and generally help to ensure that you receive the best level of care possible.
See_Your_Doctor_Slideshow3Illustrated by Mary Schafrath.
Establishing A Trusting Doctor-Patient Relationship
One of the most sacred parts of medicine is the doctor-patient relationship. This relationship is not built overnight, but requires multiple interactions to allow the doctor to really understand the patient. This is particularly important because it can affect the treatment that is prescribed.
For example, if a physician knows that a given patient does not desire surgery, then he or she can work to find effective alternative therapies. Similarly, if a patient despises medications, physicians can seek out additional options. It is not until a physician understands a patient’s history and values that he or she can help to the best of their abilities. Another major benefit of being an established patient is that most practices have 24/7 call lines; so, when it’s Sunday night with no one around and nothing open, patients still have access to a knowledgeable physician whom they can call for help.
(Virtually) Free Prevention
Even the most basic insurance typically covers the cost of an annual preventive care visit, including necessary lab tests. There may be small co-pay at the time of the visit, but this is usually no more than $25. For roughly the same price as a round of shots at the bar, a physician will meet one-on-one to discuss your personal health needs and concerns. Talk about bang for your buck.
Even if you don't have health insurance, there are countless community clinics, facilities, and even hospitals across the country that provide reduced-cost or free health care, depending on income status, to those without insurance.
The Takeaway
Feeling indestructible can lead young adults to overlook important components of health and wellness. Taking the time up-front to build a health portfolio with a physician acts as a safety net and helps to ensure that patients are able to accrue the benefits of wellness across a lifetime.

More from Wellness


R29 Original Series