by Louise Kramer, AARP
When it comes to our health, medical emergencies and illnesses like the flu always get seen to — STAT. Routine medical appointments … not so much. Annual exams are easy to shrug off, but it’s important to fit those physicals, mammograms and dental cleanings into our busy lives. A regular screening can identify a potential problem early on, before it becomes a serious health issue that is more difficult to treat.
So why not make a day of it? Line up a few appointments and get them over with. Enlist a friend or loved one to join you, and sweeten the day with a cappuccino break or glass of wine when you’re done. Think of it as a day of prevention, says Len Lichtenfeld, deputy chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society.
Health care professionals say two appointments in a day make sense, maybe three at the most, so you’ll need to pick and choose what to schedule. Important regular screenings depending on your age and medical history include a visit to your primary care doctor, dentist, dermatologist and ophthalmologist.
For women, add in a mammogram, bone density test and a visit to the gynecologist, says Nina Blachman, assistant professor of geriatrics and director of the geriatrics fellowship program at NYU Langone Health.
As we age, it’s important to get a colonoscopy, but since it requires prep the day before and anesthesia the day of, save this appointment to do on its own.
The website myhealthfinder is a helpful resource to figure out which preventive screening tests to schedule. There’s an online calculator where you can plug in your age and gender. Tailored recommendations pop up from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force and several other health groups, along with lists of suggested questions to ask your doctor and links to information resources.
Become an efficiency expert. When scheduling your visits, ask what time of day is busiest and try to avoid it. Don’t be afraid to ask if the doctor or technician tends to run late. Find out how long the actual appointment will last, and whether you’ll need to wait around for test results or will get them later, suggests Lichtenfeld. Try to start your day with a physical since routine blood tests require that you fast for eight hours beforehand. If a mammogram is uncomfortable for you, save that test for last, says NYU’s Blachman.
Be prepared. For any medical or dental appointment, arrive with a list of the medications you take and the dosages. It’s a good idea to store it in your phone or keep a paper copy in your purse or wallet. One-on-one time with your doctor can go lightning fast. If you’re concerned about a health issue, write it down, along with a list of questions you want answered. Don’t forget to refer to what you’ve written, and jot down the answers.
Enlist your friend or partner. Speaking with the doctor can be anxiety-provoking and cause you to miss important information. Having someone in the room can help you capture what the doctor is saying. “It is so common that people are not listening to what the doctor is telling them,” says Blachman. “It is always helpful to have a family member.”
Cavities aren’t just for kids. Get a cleaning and exam by your dentist as part of the appointment twice a year, and more often if your dental health warrants it, says Kenneth Aschheim, a dentist in private practice in New York and an adjunct associate professor at NYU College of Dentistry. “The concern when you get older for both men and women is whether due to age or medication, saliva output decreases,” he says. “People who were never prone to cavities start to develop them.”
Just do it. Routine visits for physicals and dental cleanings can be tempting to avoid if you’ve gained weight, neglect to exercise, drink too much, smoke, or never floss. Try to start on a healthier path before your appointment. Taking initial steps can give you a sense of accomplishment and help avoid a lecture from your provider. “You can be listening to advice with a better frame of mind,” says Blachman.