Millions of Americans Skipped Their Physical This Year—Here Are 4 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t

Photo: Stocksy / Sean Locke
As hospitals have become COVID-19 battlegrounds, people are understandably a bit frightened at the thought of visiting a doctor. In an effort to avoid getting sick, many millions of Americans may consider skipping their annual physical this year. But your annual physical is part of what keeps you healthy, says Michael Hanak, MD, a board-certified family physician and associate professor at the Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. Should you get a physical this year? The short answer is yes.

"The annual physical is all about addressing health concerns while reducing health risks," says Dr. Hanak. "Often you may feel completely fine—but the visit goes beyond a physical exam. Having an in-depth discussion about risk factors is as important as bloodwork and other preventive services which may be indicated. For many people, one or more years may have passed since their last physical and much has changed, especially in the setting of a pandemic. This visit is a way to intervene early and avoid health problems from worsening."

Experts In This Article
  • Jessica Malaty Rivera, MS, Jessica Malaty Rivera, MS is an infectious disease epidemiologist and microbiologist. She is the science communication lead at The COVID Tracking Project.
  • Michael Hanak, MD, Michael Hanak, MD, is a board-certified family physician and associate professor at the Rush University Medical Center.
  • Pauline Yi, MD, Pauline Yi, MD, is a board-certified physician and assistant clinical professor for the Department of Internal Medicine and Pediatrics at UCLA.

If you need more convincing, here are four reasons you shouldn't skip your physical this year.

Why you should get a physical this year and every year

1. Physicals are even more important during the pandemic

Pauline Yi, MD, a board-certified physician and assistant clinical professor for the Department of Internal Medicine and Pediatrics at UCLA, says that having your physical is even more important during the pandemic.

"We do know that people who have chronic conditions like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or heart disease or diabetes, we know that they're at higher risk for severe COVID," says Dr. Yi. "If you're not being screened or monitored for your chronic diseases, then you're at higher risk of getting sicker because you have uncontrolled chronic disease."

And even if you don't have a chronic disease and feel relatively fine, you never know what could be happening internally.

"You don't know what's going on if you don't have an annual," says Dr. Yi. "Fatigue doesn't necessarily mean that you're sleep-deprived. It could be signs of anemia. It could be signs of thyroid issues. But until we get those checked and you talk to the doctor, you'll never know what's the cause of the symptom."

2. A return to normal might be far away

If you're putting off your physical until things return to normal, Dr. Hanak says you might be waiting longer than you think.

"It is important not to further delay preventive care, or avoid seeking medical attention for ongoing concerns," says Dr. Hanak. "And while a vaccine is on the horizon, it may be a good while before things return to a sense of normal many of us are hoping to achieve. Waiting for that new normal could be much longer than anticipated, amplifying health risks that go unaddressed."

3. Doctors offices are taking the necessary precautions

Even though it can be a scary thought, Dr. Hanak says you shouldn't be afraid of catching COVID-19 at the doctor's office.

"Early in the pandemic, it was appropriate to defer some care, as we were dealing with increasing cases of an unfamiliar illness," says Dr. Hanak. "Having learned a tremendous amount since then, we now have protocols in place to safely care for patients while also managing COVID in a way that prevents transmission between patients."

For example, in Dr. Yi's clinic, many precautions are taken before a patient even enters the office.

"When you make your appointment, you're asked a series of 20 questions to figure out if you have any of the [COVID-19] symptoms. And then if you have any symptoms, we automatically proceed through a telemedicine appointment—a video virtual appointment," says Dr. Yi. "One, to keep you safe to keep us safe and two, keep everyone in the office safe. We're able to do a lot of diagnosing through telemedicine." If a patient does have COVID-19 and needs to be seen by a doctor, they go to a room separate from other patients.

If you make it through the initial screening, you're stopped again at the door. "Again, and you're asked another series of questions as well as get your temperature taken," says Dr. Li. If you make it in, the clinic taking every precaution. "All of the doctors are all wearing PPE," she says. "The rooms are being cleaned between every single visit and wiped down with bleach and everything just make sure that the rooms are sanitized properly."

4. You can get a physical without leaving your home

Although it sounds strange, it is possible to get your physical exam through a video call. Some insurances will cover a virtual physical and some won't so be sure to check in with your provider before making an appointment.

"Most doctors assess pretty well by looking at the patient. So if a patient is breathing funny you know that something is wrong, you can see that on a computer screen. If the patient is in distress, you can see it on the screen," says Dr. Yi. "We can't obviously hear their lungs, hear their heart, feel their stomach, but you can actually assess the patient just by the way they're talking, by the way they look, by the way they're formulating their thoughts."

You may also consider scheduling a house call through a service like Heal. Double-check that it's covered by your insurance.

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