Routine Maintenance: When, Why, and How Often to Schedule Doctor Checkups | theSkimm
Routine Maintenance: When, Why, and How Often to Schedule Doctor CheckupsLara Antal

A previous version of this article included incorrect information about how often to get a pap smear. It's recommended every three years, not every year. It also included incorrect information about when to see an eye doctor. It's every two years if you don’t have any vision problems, but once a year if you do. We've updated the post and regret the errors.

The Story 

Scheduling a doctor’s visit might be the last item on your long to-do list. But it’s also one of the most important. Here’s what you need to know about when to schedule routine checkups and with what doctors each year. 

Making Appointments

How do I find the right doctor? 

If you have insurance, check your provider’s website to find in-network doctors. You may want to cross-check these options with referrals, or doctors recommended to you by friends—especially co-workers, if your employer provides your insurance. Then, do some good old fashioned Internet stalking. Resources like U.S. News’s Top Doctors, HealthGrades.com, and Zocdoc can help you get the 411 on doctors and their patient reviews.

I know I should see my doctors but remind me how often.
  • Primary care physician…Once a year (aka your annual checkup). Your PCP is like the air traffic controller for your health. They’ll have access to your medical history and be able to recommend specialists based on your needs. These visits usually include a physical exam plus preventative services like screenings for cholesterol and high blood pressure.
  • OB-GYN...Also once a year. This should include a pelvic exam, breast exam, and STD screenings if you have a new partner. Your OB-GYN should also be your go-to for all sex, reproductive, or menstrual health related questions.
  • Dentist...Every six months. Say cheese. You’ll get a teeth cleaning plus an oral exam to check for things like cavities and gum disease.
  • Dermatologist...Once a year for a full body check. If you have a family history of skin cancer, your derm may want to see you more than once a year. And go if you have any suspicious growths or new moles.
  • Eye doctor...Every two years if you don’t have any vision problems, but once a year if you do. Eye see you procrastinating. Even if you have perfect vision (congrats), your eye doc will check for things like eye disease, cataracts, and cornea scratches. Book an optometrist for routine eye care and save an ophthalmologist for serious conditions and surgeries.
  • Psychiatrist...Depends. Recommendations for mental health treatment are highly individual. Talk to your mental health provider to figure out a plan that works best for you.

Making the Most of Your Appointments

Getting those doctor’s appointments on your calendar is step one. Then, you’ll want to prep questions for your doctor so you can be an empowered patient and make the most of your visit. 

For when you have no major concerns but want to get the best general care...

Get ahead of the game. Ask your doc, “What preventative services are right for me?” This gives your doctor a chance to tell you the screenings, tests, and vaccines that should be on your radar depending on your age and background. 

For when you want to better understand your family history…

Visit the family tree. Ask, “How does my family medical history affect my risk for certain conditions?” Your doctor will be able to fill you in on exactly how concerned you should be, and what measures you should be taking to combat risk. 

For when you want to know how to get answers in between visits…

Time for a browser tab check. Ask, “Which Internet resources should I trust?” This will help prevent paranoid WebMD rabbit holes and give you some trusted guidelines for your searches. 

For when you want real talk…

Get personal. Ask your doc, “What do you do for your own wellness?” This should give you some tips and tricks to apply to your own life. Or convince you to switch doctors if the answer is “nothing.” 

For when you leave with a prescription to fill…

Get the details. If you haven’t discussed it already, make sure to ask, “Why are you prescribing this?” You should understand exactly what your medication is solving for, and how it affects you physiologically. You can also ask if there are generic substitutes for your prescription as a cost-saving measure. 

Paying for Appointments  

Every plan is different, but not all doctors are created equal under insurance guidelines. Your PCP, OB-GYN, dentist, and dermatologist are typically covered. You’ll want to check your plan to see what else is on the list. Here are some flags to watch out for: 

  • Mental health visits...are not always covered, and many therapists don’t accept insurance (more on why here). Coverage may depend on what type of therapy you’re getting (i.e. if it’s deemed a medical necessity or not) and what type of therapist is treating you. 
  • Cosmetic surgery...is rarely covered. Unless it’s because of severe disfigurement or scarring from a disease, injury, or birth defect. 
  • Eye appointments...are sometimes covered. Some plans cover eye appointments for a specific medical eye issue, but don’t cover routine eye exams. Other plans contain a separate vision plan that takes care of those routine checkups. Make sure to check which kind of plan you have so that you aren't sticker shocked. 
  • Alternative medicine...is rarely covered. That includes acupuncture, hypnosis, massage, and chiropractor appointments. But the demand for these types of treatments is rising, and some treatments may be eligible for reimbursement.

theSkimm

Health plans aren’t one-size-fits-all—but everyone can and should stay proactive about their appointments. Calendar, handled.