Health problems that need routine monitoring definitely increase as you get older, and adults over age 65 go to the doctor more than twice as often as 18- to 44-year-olds, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But is a calendar full of medical appointments really necessary?
"There's a lot of debate” around how often adults should see the doctor, says Paul Takahashi, a physician at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. He recommends that adults who take medication for chronic conditions see their primary care physician at least once a year to make sure diseases are being properly managed and to stay on top of preventive screenings, such as mammograms and blood sugar tests. “We take good care of our equipment and our cars. Taking care of ourselves is also really important,” says Takahashi, whose patients are primarily 65 and older.
That's not to say you shouldn't schedule additional appointments when you experience an illness or injury — many adults also see specialists to help manage more complex conditions. But overscheduling medical care doesn't guarantee better health.
"There is a harm in getting over-investigated, overworked and overmedicated,” says Peter Abadir, an associate professor of medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
Frequent visits to health care facilities “where a lot of sick patients visit” also put one at a “higher risk of getting something,” such as an illness or infection, Abadir says. His advice? “You don't need to see a physician unless you need them.”
Here's how to make the most out of each visit you truly need.
Preparing for appointments ahead of time is one way to cut down on the number of trips you make to the doctor's office. Write down all of the questions and concerns that you want to address during your visit to ensure that you don't need a follow-up appointment for forgotten points. “It's one of the most important things that people can do,” since it helps both the patient and the provider focus during what's often a short amount of time, Takahashi says.
Having another set of ears in the room to help you record and recall the doctor's instructions is another tip that Takahashi says can be helpful to older adults, especially if the physician makes any changes to medications. Plus, a family member or friend can provide a sense of comfort.
"It's nice to have another individual to be there to be supportive and also to ask questions, and we certainly encourage that. As our population gets a little older, we're sort of seeing more of that family or team approach to help with care,” Takahashi observes.