During the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s important to see your primary care provider (PCP) for routine health care, including physicals, checkups to address new health concerns and ongoing visits to manage chronic health conditions.
Getting regular health care and routine screenings can help prevent serious health problems or help you catch them early, when you may have more treatment options. If you’ve delayed care during the pandemic, now is a great time to see your provider to keep your health on track.
“The pandemic has created a new normal, but we can’t postpone our health care,” said Katherine D. Rose, MD, a primary care physician at the Brigham. “Avoiding regular health checkups or overlooking routine screenings could have negative consequences.”
Why are routine health checkups important?
Annual physical exams and routine visits allow your PCP to assess your overall health and wellness. They can listen to your concerns and address any questions you may have about your family health history or recent changes in your health. Your PCP can also help you manage chronic health conditions, like diabetes or asthma, and refer you to specialists who can help you achieve your best possible health.
“Our job as primary care doctors is to help you stay on top of your health and keep you from needing more advanced medical services in the future,” said Dr. Rose. “Even if you’re not experiencing a problem, please visit your doctors regularly to check on your health.”
During a physical and other routine visits, your PCP can check these vital signs:
- Blood pressure: A healthy blood pressure is 120/80 mmHg. High blood pressure is 130/80 mmHg or higher.
- Heart rate: A healthy heart rate is between 60 and 100 beats a minute.
“It’s especially important to have your blood pressure checked regularly as prolonged high blood pressure can damage blood vessels that supply the heart, brain and kidneys,” said Dr. Rose. “High blood pressure can also increase the risk of heart disease, stroke and kidney disease.”
What tests and screenings are done during an annual physical?
At your physical, your PCP may recommend medical tests or screenings that are appropriate for you depending on your age and health history. These may include screening tests for cervical cancer, breast cancer, prostate cancer, colon cancer and infectious diseases like hepatis C and HIV. Other tests may be recommended if you have certain chronic health conditions. You can ask for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) tests, too.
Ask your PCP if you’re up to date with your routine vaccinations. Vaccines are one of the best ways to stay healthy. Depending on your health history and age, you may need vaccines for Tdap, hepatitis A and B, the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine, shingles and pneumonia. It’s also important to get the flu vaccine every year.
How can I manage new or chronic health conditions?
If you’re concerned about changes in your health, your PCP can help determine if you need additional testing or treatment. Likewise, your PCP can help you manage existing conditions you may have that require regular checkups and coordinating care with specialists.
“A visit with your primary care doctor can help identify signs of a new health condition,” said Dr. Rose. “For instance, an indication of diabetes could be increased urination or being thirstier than usual, but only your doctor can order the proper testing to confirm a diagnosis.”
It’s also important to address mental health conditions with your health care team, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. If you experience changes in your mood or feelings, like feeling anxious or depressed, schedule an appointment with your PCP.
If you’re managing a chronic health condition, your PCP can offer routine testing to prevent the disease from worsening. For example, if you have high blood pressure, your doctor may monitor your blood pressure and ask you to check it regularly at home to help prevent a heart attack or stroke. Your PCP also may monitor blood tests to check kidney function if you have high blood pressure. If you have high cholesterol, your PCP may suggest lifestyle changes or recommend a medicine that can help you lower it.
Your PCP can also help you coordinate care with specialists, like a cardiologist or rheumatologist, to help manage your condition. For example, if you have diabetes, your doctor can work with you and your endocrinologist to help you maintain blood sugar levels.
Which cancer screenings do I need?
Cancer screenings save lives. Don’t delay screenings for:
- Breast cancer. Regular mammograms are the best tests doctors have to find breast cancer early, sometimes up to 3 years before it can be felt. Women age 40 and older can work together with their provider to decide when to start mammograms.
The U.S. Preventative Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommends that women who are 50 to 74 years old and are at average risk for breast cancer get a mammogram every 2 years.
- Colon cancer. The USPSTF recommends adults begin screenings at age 50. Some groups recommend starting earlier, at age 45. Talk to your provider about when to begin screenings and decide which colon cancer screening test is right for you.
- Cervical cancer. Women should get a pap smear as scheduled, especially if you had an abnormal pap smear in the past.
- Lung cancer. If you’re between the ages of 50 and 80 and have a long history of smoking, ask your PCP if you may be a good candidate for annual lung cancer screening.
How is the Brigham keeping patients safe?
Brigham primary care offices follow our Safe Care Commitment, which prioritizes the health and safety of patients, families and staff throughout the pandemic. We’ve taken many measures to provide the safest possible environment for health care.
A visit with your PCP can be done in person or online. A Virtual Visit allows you to accomplish many of the same things as an in-person visit. During a virtual visit, your doctor can discuss your health, address any concerns, order medical tests and refer you to specialists if needed.
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