By Alex Gaterud - Contributor

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The simple science behind preventive visits

May 26, 2017

The science behind preventive medicine is clear: visiting the doctor regularly helps patients stay healthy.

Regardless of your level of health, it’s important to visit the doctor once a year for a preventive appointment. Best of all, it’s likely covered by your plan.

There’s a reason doctors call your annual checkup a “preventive” visit: “You want to make sure you catch any condition before it has a lot of physical signs or symptoms,” says Dr. Peter Dehnel, medical director at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota.

To get a better idea of why annual checkups matter, we asked Dr. Dehnel to share some of the most important benefits of a preventive visit.

A full picture of health

An annual visit helps build a clear idea of your overall health, from height and weight to blood pressure numbers to age-specific procedures, like cancer screenings or mammograms. And, more importantly, yearly visits create a strong medical record so your care team can see how things have changed over time.

“No matter what age you are now, a preventive visit looks at all of the different components of health that you can improve,” he says. “You’ll have a better picture of health going into older age.”

Building a relationship

It can be intimidating to search for a doctor, but Dr. Dehnel says finding a physician you trust and developing a relationship with them is an important part of annual checkups. “Preventive visits are about keeping you healthy, as opposed to sick visits, when you’re addressing a specific short-term problem,” he says.

“These wellness visits give the physician time to talk to you about your situation and conditions and encourage you to pay attention to your health.”

Tests and immunizations

When you get down to the nuts and bolts, Dr. Dehnel says, a checkup helps you stay up-to-date on your tests, immunizations and screenings — all tools that help you avoid complications down the line.

“Preventive visits generally address things that change over time but which you can’t feel — blood pressure, cholesterol level, blood sugar levels and other risk factors,” Dehnel says. “And all of these issues can lead to serious complications in old age.”

And, if there are new recommendations for specific screenings, like mammograms, colonoscopies, vision screening or hearing tests, the doctor will be able to notify you.

Avoiding unseen problems

Most importantly, Dr. Dehnel says, a regular visit — and following the advice of your doctor — can radically improve your picture of health as you age. “The things you’re trying to prevent or minimize are heart disease, strokes, effects of diabetes and cancer. And prevention is much easier and less costly than dealing with the condition once it shows up.”

Quiz yourself

Think you know all about preventive visits? Take our quiz to learn more about how preventive care helps your health.

About Dr. Dehnel
Dr. Pete Dehnel joined Blue Cross in 2011. He serves as the medical director for integrated case management, which focuses on utilization, disease and care management. Dr. Dehnel is a board certified pediatrician. He participates in initiatives focused on obesity prevention, tobacco reduction and advanced care directives, and writes for Minnesota Parent magazine’s “Ask the Pediatrician” column.

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