How Often Do I Have to Go to the Doctor?

You probably know it’s a good idea to see a primary care provider on a regular basis. But exactly how often should you visit your health care provider? And are there specialists you should see on a regular basis?

Here’s a look at which providers you should visit regularly — and how often you should have them on your calendar.

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How Often Should You Visit the Doctor?

There’s no one-size-fits-all answer to the question. The answer will depend on several things.

  • Your age. Older people typically need to see doctors and other health care providers more often.
  • Your gender. Women have special health care needs and should see an OB-GYN on a regular basis in addition to other doctors. If you’re pregnant, you’ll need a series of prenatal visits.
  • Any pre-existing conditions you might have. If you have a chronic health condition (like asthma, allergies, heart disease, or diabetes), you’ll need to see a doctor or specialist more often.

Health Care Providers You Should See Regularly

Here are the health care providers most people should see on a regular basis.

Primary care provider

Your primary care provider (PCP) is the doctor and the primary care team who look after your overall health. You should see your PCP once a year. Ideally, you’ll establish a relationship with a PCP you feel comfortable with and who will get to know you and your medical history.

Your PCP offers regular screenings for:

  • High or low blood pressure.
  • High cholesterol.
  • Diabetes.
  • Weight management.
  • Mental health issues such as depression.
  • Colon cancer.
  • Bone density (for women 65 and older).

Even if you’re healthy, you shouldn’t miss your annual checkup. Your PCP can:

  • Assess your risk for current and future medical conditions.
  • Discuss ways to make your lifestyle healthier.
  • Update your vaccinations.
  • Refer you to specialists if need be.

Dermatologist

Sometimes people will go to a dermatologist (skin doctor) for a specific concern like acne or skin tags. However, all adults should have a full-body skin exam once a year. It’s the best way to catch skin cancer in its early stages.

Your dermatologist will scan your whole body for early signs of skin cancer. They have the training to look for symptoms you can’t see yourself. The exam itself will only last about 10 minutes.

Some other things to know about a whole-body exam from a dermatologist.

  • You’ll need to remove your clothes and put on a medical exam gown. (You can keep your underwear on.)
  • The dermatologist will check your skin from head to toe. They may use a handheld magnifying device called a dermascope. It helps them see the outer layer of skin and the layers just beneath it.
  • Your doctor may biopsy any suspicious spots. That means removing all or part of the lesion and sending it to a lab for analysis.

Ob-gyn

Sometimes women associate seeing an ob-gyn with specific reasons, like obtaining birth control or scheduling prenatal care. But all women over age 21 should see an ob-gyn for cervical cancer screening. Some specifics:

  • All women ages 21 to 65 years old should have a Pap test every three to five years, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
  • Women at higher risk for cervical cancer, or those with previous abnormal Pap tests, may need more frequent exams.
  • Women over age 65 can usually stop having Pap tests, especially if they don’t have a history of abnormal tests or cancer.
  • Women ages 50 to 75 should have a mammogram every one to two years to screen for breast cancer. Your doctor may recommend starting routine mammograms earlier, depending on your family history and medical history.

Eye doctor

If you wear corrective lenses, you should see an ophthalmologist (eye doctor) once every two years for an updated prescription. If you wear contacts, you need to see your eye doctor every year.

If you have an ongoing condition like cataracts, your eye doctor may want to see you more frequently. And if you have sudden problems — like blurry vision or seeing flashes — you should see your eye doctor right away.

But even if you have excellent vision, you should still see an eye doctor on a regular basis. They can catch problems before symptoms appear. Here are some guidelines for when to make an appointment with an eye doctor.

  • Ages 20 to 30. The American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends a complete eye exam in your twenties, even if you have perfect vision.
  • Ages 30 to 39. You should have two complete eye exams in your thirties, even if you don’t notice any changes in your vision.
  • Age 40. Even if you still have good vision, another complete eye exam is in order. Forty is the age when vision typically changes. An eye doctor can catch early signs of eye disease or changes in your vision.
  • Ages 41 to 64. After a baseline exam, your eye doctor will tell you how often you should have your eyes checked based on the results. If you already wear eyeglasses or contacts, you should see an eye doctor every year or two.
  • Age 65 and over. If you’re over age 65, whether you wear glasses or not, you should have your eyes checked every year or two. Your eye doctor will look for signs of cataracts, glaucoma, and age-related macular degeneration.

Dentist

Most people should see the dentist once or twice a year for checkups and cleaning. You may need more visits for in-depth cleanings or to take care of problems like cavities. You may need x-rays so the dentist can see what’s happening beneath the gum line.

Here’s why your oral health is so vital:

  • Keeping your teeth, gums, and mouth healthy is an important part of your overall health. Gingivitis (infected gums) can lead to more serious gum disease and eventually loss of bone and teeth.
  • Your dentist also can screen for oral cancer by checking your tongue, mouth, jaw, and neck.
  • There may be a link between heart disease and gum disease.
  • Regular checkups can help your dentist spot problems early on. They also can help prevent problems from happening in the first place.

The bottom line for all routine checkups is this: Preventive care on a regular basis can save you from having more serious medical issues later. So go ahead and make those appointments now.

Sources

American Academy of Ophthalmology, Eye Exam and Vision Testing Basics, Link

American Dental Association, Your Top 9 Questions About Going to the Dentist — Answered! Link

American Academy of Family Physicians, Preventive Services for Healthy Living, Link

Skin Cancer Foundation, Annual Exams, Link

National Library of Medicine, Physical exam frequency, Link

CDC, Breast Cancer Screening Guidelines for Women, Link

American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Cervical Cancer Screening, Link

About UPMC

Headquartered in Pittsburgh, UPMC is a world-renowned health care provider and insurer. We operate 40 hospitals and 800 doctors’ offices and outpatient centers, with locations throughout Pennsylvania, Maryland, New York, West Virginia, and internationally. We employ 4,900 physicians, and we are leaders in clinical care, groundbreaking research, and treatment breakthroughs. U.S. News & World Report consistently ranks UPMC Presbyterian Shadyside as one of the nation’s best hospitals in many specialties and ranks UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh on its Honor Roll of America’s Best Children’s Hospitals. We are dedicated to providing Life Changing Medicine to our communities.