It's a scenario we can all imagine: sitting in the waiting room of the doctor's office, bracing yourself for the worst.
It's been three years since your last visit. Everything was okay then, but while you've been relatively healthy, your diet could use some improvement. You've gained a little weight. You could always exercise, but with work, chores, kids' activities, and volunteer commitments, it seems like there's never enough time.
Having something pop up is never convenient, but a health problem right now would be particularly hard. It's just been so long since you've had a checkup — anything could've happened. You'd almost rather not know.
Health screenings build relationships
It doesn't have to be this way. There's no reason to be anxious about a checkup—unless you've been avoiding the doctor. For most people, putting off care is about cost. Given the opportunity, they would happily see their primary care provider more often. Regular screenings are a great way to bridge that gap in care and set the precedent for future habits.
Health screenings are precious moments of connection between patients and primary care teams. They are opportunities to build a meaningful patient-provider relationship, establish rapport, and build trust. Primary care evaluation isn't just about looking for symptoms; it's also about understanding patients and their contexts, such as:
Is the patient living in a stressful environment?
Does the patient enjoy their work?
How much free time does the patient have each day?
What are the patient's personal goals and desires?
How are the patient's relationships?
In addition to a health workup, these questions provide a bigger picture that helps identify risks and opportunities for improvement. However, this isn't possible without consistency.
How often should you receive a health screening?
The recommended frequency for health screenings (as well as what kind of screenings you need) depends on your age, gender, lifestyle, and medical background. For example, the older you get, the more you're at risk of certain types of cancer, so you should be screened at least at least once a year.
However, the key to making annual wellness screenings more effective is consistency. It also helps remove the trepidation some people feel; when everything is out in the open, there's less to worry about.
This process, when done consistently, also improves engagement. When a provider is seen as an expensive, uncomfortable necessity, patients are less likely to make an appointment. Likewise, when patients are less hesitant to make appointments, they don't get the care they need — and can even face preventable illnesses.
Regular screenings make it easier to determine when more in-depth tests are necessary or lifestyle changes are needed, ideally long before a problem becomes acute.
Patient Story: The power of consistent health screenings
Dr. Kevin Wang, Chief Medical Officer at Vera Whole Health, shares how a regular screening helped one patient get the care he needed before it was too late:
"We had a man in his mid-fifties. We knew he needed a colonoscopy. But for many reasons, the patient didn't want to do it — and he wasn't convinced he needed it. So instead, we had him do a noninvasive spit card as an initial screening.
"The patient tested positive. He then got a colonoscopy, and we found two pre-malignant lesions that were successfully removed. The screening had such a positive benefit. We caught a problem early before it became acute. Which, to me, is awesome."