Annual Exams Are as Important for Adults as They Are for Kids

A doctor’s perspective on why annual exams matter

Reviewed by: René Salazar, MD
Written by: Lauryn Feil

You may be in good health, but that doesn’t mean you don’t need to pay your doctor a visit. Having an annual physical exam is the best way for you and your primary care physician to check in about your health and take any preventative actions, such as screenings or vaccinations, you may need to help keep you in good health. We talked with René Salazar, MD, internal medicine specialist in UT Health Austin’s Primary Care Clinic, about the importance of annual exams for adults (which, ahem, includes you 18 to 20-somethings) and here’s what he had to say:

Why is it important for adults to schedule annual exams?

There are a few reasons for why adults should schedule annual exams. One of the most important reasons is to review and update one’s history (e.g., medical/surgical history, family history, social history, etc.), health-related behaviors (e.g., tobacco, alcohol, and substance use), and preventative care measures (e.g., cancer screenings and immunizations). Annual exams are also a great way to build a relationship with your healthcare provider. For example, I’ve used annual exams to explore patient preferences and philosophy towards medical care (i.e., aggressive vs. nonaggressive approaches).

Which screenings and immunizations should adults receive yearly?

For the average risk individual over the age of 50, flu shots are recommended annually as well as various types of cancer screening tests, such as a colorectal cancer screening, which many people don’t realize is important. Additional screenings are also recommended for individuals for certain risk factors (e.g., tobacco use) or concurrent conditions (e.g., diabetes mellitus). It’s important to speak with your provider to learn more about screenings and immunizations that may be important for your age demographic and potential risk factors.

Are there certain screenings that adults may be less aware of that are important?

Most individuals are familiar with screening recommendations for breast and cervical cancer; however, some individuals are less familiar with other types of cancer screenings, such as colorectal cancer, as mentioned above, though this is improving. Furthermore, awareness and utilization vary by a patient’s social or economic factors, which is why it’s important to increase awareness among various populations.

How can screenings and immunizations help in relation to preventative care and early detection?

An estimated 80,000 Americans died of the flu and its complications during 2017-2018 flu season – the disease’s highest death toll in at least four decades. Though the influenza vaccine does not provide 100% protection against the flu, it does offer protection against some strains of the flu and without the vaccine, the number of deaths in 2017-2018 would have been much higher. Similarly, early detection of cancer by screening can result in decreased incidence of cancer. For example, the incidence of colorectal cancer decreased 3% per year from 2004 to 2013, this is thought to predominantly reflect the detection and removal of precancerous polyps as a result of increased colorectal cancer screenings. Bottom line: immunizations and screenings for certain types of cancer saves lives!

Why are annual exams even more important for adults who are managing other conditions?

Individuals with other chronic condition, such as diabetes, heart failure, or kidney failure, are at a higher risk and are more susceptible to certain types of infections or complications from their illness. Thus, annual exams in addition to more frequent regularly scheduled follow-ups with a provider are important.

Why is it important to establish an ongoing relationship with a primary care clinician?

There are many benefits to establishing an ongoing relationship with a primary care clinician. A primary care clinician can help orchestrate an individual’s care, especially when patients are given the opportunity to see multiple providers and specialists. Recommendations and treatment plans from multiple specialists can be overwhelming and having a primary care clinician who knows an individual’s history and preferences can help minimize redundant and unnecessary testing or treatment. Finally, though all clinicians can and should advocate for their patients, having someone who really knows their patient can lead to a more satisfying experience between the patient and provider and possibly better outcomes.

Your health is an investment, so why not start today? Make an appointment with UT Health Austin’s Primary Care Clinic or UT Health Austin’s Worklife Walk-In Clinic by visiting online or calling 1-833-UT-CARES. For a comprehensive guide to which screenings and immunizations you should receive for your age range, download our reminder infographic here.

About UT Health Austin

UT Health Austin, the group practice designed and managed by the faculty and staff of the Dell Medical School, focuses the expertise of a team of experienced medical professionals to deliver personalized, whole-person care of uncompromising quality. Our experienced healthcare professionals treat each patient as an individual with unique circumstances, priorities, and beliefs. Working with you, your care team creates an individualized care plan to help you reach the goals that matter most to you — in the care room and beyond. For more information, call us at 1-833-UT-CARES or request an appointment here.