Monday Medical: Foster health with regular well checks
For Steamboat Pilot & Today
Prevention is the best medicine, and a big part of prevention is having a regular well check. These annual checks are recommended for adults and kids alike, and have an extra perk for youth: They’re also an opportunity to complete the sports physical required to play school sports.
“We really encourage families to schedule a well child check and not just a quick visit to get forms filled out for sports,” said Dr. David Niedermeier, a family medicine physician in Steamboat Springs and a member of the medical staff at UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center. “If a sports physical is due the next day, parents may skip a wellness check and run through the quick checklist. While that may get a child to football practice, it’s not a good strategy for long-term health.”
Topics that may be covered during regular wellness checks for youth include overall health, immunizations including the COVID-19 vaccine if eligible, mental health, growth and development for younger kids, and for teens, issues such as acne, contraception and making good decisions about drugs and alcohol. It can be easier to broach these topics with a provider a patient has seen regularly.
“To have these conversations, it is beneficial to be seen by a provider that already has a relationship with the patient and often with the family,” Niedermeier said. “Teenagers in particular can be reluctant to bring up important topics, but knowing the provider can make them more comfortable.”
Wellness visits for both youth and adults are covered by insurance, and many health providers will do a sports physical for free as part of a wellness visit.
Sports physicals involve a brief head-to-toe physical, as well as reviewing a questionnaire that helps identify symptoms that may be associated with cardiac problems. While cardiac issues are rare in youth, they do appear.
“If you see a kid who says, ‘Every time I run, I get short of breath or have chest pain,’ then that needs to be evaluated,” Niedermeier said.
Wellness visits are critical for adults, as well, and provide an opportunity to review lab results on cholesterol, blood sugar and thyroid, kidney and liver function; to conduct screenings for cancers; to review immunizations and medications; to talk about mental health and alcohol use; and to outline how a patient’s family history should influence their own care.
“For me, it’s fun to take a step back from disease management and look at the big picture and how to help keep people healthy,” Niedermeier said.
One common misconception is that if you’re healthy, you can skip a regular wellness visit. These visits can be critical in identifying issues, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and cancer, which often start off without symptoms.
“For adults and kids, there can sometimes be the feeling that, ‘I’m healthy, so I don’t need to do a wellness exam,’ but that’s not true,” Niedermeier said. “There’s almost always something that comes up in each exam that makes us glad they came in for the visit, whether that’s reviewing immunizations or finding something on their medication list that can be done more inexpensively.”
Before your wellness check, try to write down any questions you have so you won’t forget them and don’t be afraid to ask about things that may feel silly or embarrassing.
“I totally understand why patients are uncomfortable talking about some topics, but it may help if they realize that we talk about that stuff all day long, and we’re happy to talk about it,” Niedermeier said.
Susan Cunningham writes for UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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