You may be planning on making a New Year’s resolution soon. Most people know what they should be doing. They should eat healthy food, exercise regularly, and quit smoking. But how do you accomplish this? What else can you do to keep yourself healthy? How can you increase your likelihood of being successful with these resolutions?
The easiest first step in this process is to schedule a routine physical exam. Doing a regular check-up will ensure that you are directing your efforts effectively. Your “wellness exam” can even help you prevent serious illness.
One of the first things your provider will do during your physical is review your past medical history and find out how you are living now. Your provider will also discuss your family history. Knowing what health issues affect your parents and siblings will help us understand your risks.
The next piece of your health puzzle is your vital signs. These clinical measurements—your weight, your heart rate, your temperature, your breathing, and your blood pressure—work together to help us form a snap shot of your current health. It’s especially valuable to take these measurements when you are feeling well, rather than taking them only when you are sick. Your “feeling fine” vital signs can help us to identify potential risks and to make a plan to improve them.
Another thing we review is vaccinations. There are now several immunizations that can help prevent serious disease. Keeping these up-to-date is a modern way of avoiding illness for children, adults, and the elderly. We may also recommend screening tests that may help us diagnose serious illnesses earlier, when they can be treated more successfully. We will advise you which tests are not worthwhile and may be dangerous. We may be able to help you avoid medical interventions that have not been shown to be helpful.
Finally, a regular check-up and preventive care are usually completely covered by your insurance. (Insurance companies are aware of the cost savings that come with preventive care, and they want it as much as you do!)
As providers working at Patient-Centered Medical Homes, my colleagues and I have access to health resources that can help you succeed in meeting your health goals. We can connect you with experts who specialize in helping people with specific goals, like quitting tobacco or making better food choices. Most often, these services are either free or covered by insurance.
For all of these reasons, there is simply no better place to start the New Year than at your primary care office. We love seeing our patients when they are feeling good. We would much rather work with you to prevent illness then to have to treat serious disease. We would prefer to be your partners as we guide you towards a healthier and more enjoyable life.
Robert Tarnas, MD, is a family medicine doctor at Southwestern Vermont Medical Center’s Pownal Campus. “Health Matters” is a column meant to educate readers about their personal health, public health matters, and public policy.