4 Ways to Get the Most Out of Your Physical
Don't Squeeze Your Checkup into Just One Appointment
For the first time, the ACA allows women to be seen multiple times at no extra charge to cover all necessary services they're entitled to, which can include run-of-the-mill preventive tests to domestic violence counseling to diet planning. "If a woman is dealing with a complex medical situation, other issues often fall lower in the queue," says Alina Salganicoff, PhD, vice president and director of women's health policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation. "During longer and more frequent visits, additional tests can be ordered and discussed."
Keep Up with Cancer Screenings
Don't let your doc stop at a Pap smear and breast exam. In 2013, more than half of new cases of colon cancer were diagnosed in women, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that roughly 34 percent of women 50-plus are overdue for their annual screenings. Cost, fear and misconceptions about testing stop many women from staying on top of their care. But research shows that an annual high-sensitivity fecal occult blood test (FOBT), which is usually done at home and mailed to a lab, is just as effective as a colonoscopy at preventing death; one recent study found that among people 50 and older, FOBT can help reduce colorectal cancer mortality by 32 percent. And if you smoke and are over 55, talk to your doctor about being screened for lung cancer, the leading cause of cancer death among women. CT scans have been shown to be superior to chest X-rays in detecting the disease early.
Ask for STD Testing, Even If You Don't Think You Need It
Approximately 20 million new cases of sexually transmitted infections, including HIV, are diagnosed in the United States annually—and 54 percent of them occur in women. However, only 30 percent of women ages 18 to 49 report having been tested in the last two years. "Doctors who see lots of patients with STDs are more likely to screen for them. On the flip side, if your doctor thinks, 'I don't see patients who get STDs,' you run the risk of not being tested," says Janet Pregler, MD, director of the Iris Cantor-UCLA Women's Health Center. "There's a bias that HIV is occurring only in certain populations, but that's simply not true."
Consider Switching Doctors
If you've been sticking with the same out-of-touch physician because it's easier than finding someone new, it may be time for an upgrade. According to a report from the health research foundation the Commonwealth Fund, comprehensive care systems (like the Mayo Clinic) provide better and more timely care than individual practitioners, in part because doctors in these systems can easily share labs, charts and notes with specialists in their networks. And consider doctors who offer technology that can remind you when it's time to schedule screenings, and secure portals that allow you to view your medical records online. (In 2013, 48 percent of doctors had gone digital—up from just 11 percent in 2006.) "Staying healthy requires a true partnership with your provider," says Salganicoff. "If you take a more proactive role in your health—choosing a doctor carefully and making sure you're getting all the right tests—you'll be in the best position to receive first-rate care."