Why annual checkups can add years to your life

Victor J. Shpilberg, M.D., and Earl Harris of Louisville, Ky.

Now more than ever, it's up to each of us to take charge of our own health. An important part of doing that is establishing a relationship with a primary care physician whom you visit regularly for a "well check."

A well check is a time to sit down with your physician when you are not sick to check up on your current health status, review your health history, determine if screenings or vaccinations are needed and discuss the role of your lifestyle in your health.

Earl Harris, 59, is taking steps to ensure he stays healthy through his retirement years by getting regular well checks. He has been visiting his physician every other year for a checkup for more than 10 years.

"When I retired in 2001 and started drawing retirement income, I realized 'I want to live for a while!'" Harris said. "I decided I need to take care of my health, exercise and eat right — and my checkups are part of that."

"Think of a well check as routine maintenance," said Victor J. Shpilberg, M.D., Harris' primary care physician. "It's going to keep you on track with your health so you can avoid illness or disease in the future."

Well checks allow you and your physician to review your health history and the results of a current physical exam to coordinate a care plan tailored specifically for your needs and lifestyle.

During Harris' checkups, Dr. Shpilberg gets a chance to discuss how Harris' blood pressure and cholesterol medications are working.

"Dr. Shpilberg knows high blood pressure runs in my family," Harris said. "And during my last visit we discussed controlling my cholesterol through diet and exercise, so I've stopped taking my cholesterol medication."

Dr. Shpilberg will keep tabs on Harris' cholesterol levels to ensure his lifestyle changes are enough to keep it in control.

Why does a well check matter?

"Any present illnesses or symptoms let us address concerns before they balloon into larger, more serious problems,"  Dr. Shpilberg said. "Family and personal health history help us understand what a patient is more at risk of acquiring so we can screen for it and take steps to prevent it."

The physician also will review your lifestyle — things like how much exercise you are getting, if you smoke and how your work or personal life may be impacting your health.

“All of these factors influence your health and choices,” Dr. Shpilberg said. “The physician isn’t here to judge you. We want to be your partner in your health — to help educate you on how to live a long, healthy, happy life.”

A well check also includes reviewing allergies and medications, vitamins and supplements, and immunizations. You’ll discuss if you need a tetanus shot or are at risk for shingles, for example.

“We’ll cover if you’re due for eye and skin exams, dental visits, colonoscopies, mammograms and other screenings,” Dr. Shpilberg said. “We can also answer questions about the need for a living will, health surrogate and establishing emergency contacts.”

Health care reform and well checks

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act has improved access to well checks, which are considered preventive services. The act ensures well checks are covered 100 percent (before a deductible) by employer health plans and Medicare. Women’s annual gynecologic and mammography exams, prenatal checks, well-baby and well-child visits, and colonoscopies are all covered as preventive services as well.

–Jennifer Reynolds

If it's been more than a year since your last checkup, it's time to schedule a sit-down with your doctor. If you don't have a primary care physician, we can find the right one for you. Call (502) 629-1234 for assistance with finding a physician and scheduling your first appointment.

About our expert
Victor J. Shpilberg, M.D., practices at Norton Community Medical Associates – Pleasure Ridge Park, 8033 Dixie Highway, Louisville, KY 40258; (502) 937-3155.