The coronavirus pandemic forced many of us to recalibrate our routines in order to protect ourselves and others. That meant staying home most of the time and forgoing otherwise necessary doctors’ appointments, like annual physicals and follow-ups with specialists.
According to a May 2020 poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation, nearly half of adults in the United States said they or a member of their household delayed or skipped seeking medical care due to the pandemic. Now that people are getting fully vaccinated for COVID-19, it’s time to get back on track monitoring any non-pandemic medical concerns that we put on the back burner.
“A year ago, when we were in the height of things, it was understandable to let things wait. But now the waiting time is over,” said Eric Goldberg, medical director of NYU Langone Internal Medicine Associates. “People need to connect with their physicians and see what they’re due for.”
Curious what you should prioritize first? Here’s your checklist:
First and foremost, don’t wait to get any alarming symptoms checked out
If there’s something bothering you or you have a new symptom that’s causing alarm, don’t wait to get it checked out.
“You need to connect with your doctor because delaying could have an impact on the outcome,” Goldberg said.
Paul Fenyves, a primary care physician at Weill Cornell Medicine and New York-Presbyterian, added that there are some particular symptoms that should be addressed right away. Issues like blood in urine or stool, chest pain or heart palpitations, signs of a pre-stroke episode ― such as blurred vision, slurred speech or weakness in one side of the body ― and any new lumps or moles shouldn’t go unaddressed.
“Even if you had some symptom that resolved, but was very significant, it’s not a bad idea to see a doctor and mention it,” Fenyves said.
Schedule your annual physical, even if you feel fine
Experts recommend getting a checkup as soon as you can, even if you feel like you’re in tiptop shape.
At your visit, you can ask the doctor any questions and update your medical history. If anything is bothering you, this appointment is also a good time to bring it up.
You also should get bloodwork done at this visit, which shows your cholesterol levels, any vitamin deficiencies, possible sexually transmitted infections and more. In healthy people, an annual physical serves the goal of preventive medicine, to ensure no health condition goes undetected, Fenyves explained.
And schedule appointments with specialists throughout the rest of the year
You don’t need to stack up all of your appointments at once (unless of course you’re experiencing specific symptoms), but you should consider at least reaching out to other specialists to get your annual screenings on the books for this year.
The main checkups you should prioritize depend on your age and gender. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists advises that women see their gynecologist every year, but says Pap smears and HPV testing are only required every three to five years, depending on age and health history.
And don’t forget about cancer screenings. The American Cancer Society just lowered the recommended age for colon cancer screening, via colonoscopy, from 50 to 45 due to increased cases of colon cancer in younger people. The ACS recommends women age 45 to 54 get mammograms yearly and women 55 and older get them every other year.
Make a routine dentist appointment for a teeth cleaning and checkup as well. And finally, it might be worth making an eye appointment ― especially given the toll working from home can take on your vision.
Make appointments ASAP for any chronic illness or for anything high risk
If you’re at high risk or have a family history or genetic mutation that makes you more susceptible to developing cancer or other conditions, you should discuss with your doctor to be sure you’re complying with the proper screening guidelines for your situation. For example, women with the BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation should get a breast MRI and mammogram every year starting at age 30, according to the ACS.
And if you have a chronic condition, “you need to connect with your doctor and get back on track,” Goldman said. That means kidney checks if you have diabetes, regular blood pressure monitoring if you have hypertension or in-person dermatology visits for anyone with skin cancer or at high risk of it.