Doctor's Note: What a Well-Woman Visit Is and Why You Need One
Annual exam. Health maintenance exam. Well-woman visit. These types of doctor's visits are all one and the same, serving the same important purpose, but the importance is often overlooked by patients.
Too often, a patient waits until they have a concern or a problem to make an appointment with their doctor. The question many people have is, "If I'm healthy, why go to the doctor?" The answer lies in preventive health.
A wellness exam is a preventive healthcare exam. It is recommended to be done once a year to ensure you stay healthy and are up to date on screening tests, with the hope of catching problems early or even before they start. This is typically when your doctor refills any maintenance medications as well.
What to expect
At a wellness visit, your OB-GYN goes over your chart to make sure you are up to date on recommended screening exams, such as Pap smears (older than 21) and mammography (older than 40), and other items, such as immunizations. They review your personal and family medical history to determine your risk factors for certain illnesses and provide recommendations for additional screening or testing, if necessary.
Screening for basic health measures, such as diet and exercise, are usually talked about at this visit. Many insurance companies and hospital systems require doctors to discuss your body mass index (BMI) with you, because being overweight or obese can lead to medical problems or make existing problems worse. BMI is a measure of body fat based on weight and height. This discussion is not intended to make anyone feel bad, but is an opportunity to reach out to patients who may not know they are at risk or who need help but don't know where to start.
Safety measures, such as asking if you wear a seat belt and if you are safe at home, are also done. Many women who are victims of domestic violence would not otherwise have a chance to discuss it, so OB-GYNs screen for this at each annual visit.
Depression screening is also done at a well-woman visit to make sure your mental health needs are addressed. If you screen positive for depression, your annual exam is a good place to start the conversation about mental health. Even if your OB-GYN is not equipped to treat you, they may have recommendations and resources to point you in the right direction.
A physical exam is also part of your visit. Your doctor may do a breast and pelvic exam, and other exams if needed depending on your risk factors.
What a wellness exam isn't
A wellness exam is just that: a visit with your doctor to assess your overall wellness. Patients often want to discuss problems during a wellness exam. Unfortunately, this is not usually possible, which sometimes upsets people.
There are a few reasons for this situation. First, wellness visits are scheduled for a set amount of time, so addressing problems adequately usually isn't feasible. Second, many insurance providers don't cover different visit types on the same date. If they do, a co-pay is often required for the problem visit.
In order to make sure any concerns are completely addressed, it is usually in your best interest to schedule a separate visit. Think of it this way: When you schedule a hair appointment, you usually can't add another service once you're already at your appointment because the stylist has clients after you. You need to come back another time. A well-woman visit is no different, but it's arguably more important to come back because it's your health we're talking about.