“How often should I be going for a physical/check-up?”

—Addison P.*, New Jersey Institute of Technology
(*Name changed)

It’s generally recommended that people 18–25 years old get in touch with a healthcare professional once every year or two. A physical is also known as a preventive health visit, because the goal is to help you stay healthy. This includes spotting small problems early, before they become bigger problems.

Insurance covers one preventive visit a year Under the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”), one preventive care visit a year is covered by all insurance plans that are sold via state or federal government websites. Ideally, your healthcare provider should be someone that you’ve gotten to know and trust over time—someone you find it relatively easy to talk to—although this may not be possible if you’ve recently relocated for school.

It’s a valuable opportunity to talk with your doctor Studies suggest that for most people at a preventive care visit, the conversation with the healthcare provider is more valuable than the physical exam. If you’re completely healthy, checking in once every year or two is a good opportunity to ask questions that may have come up since your last physical. For example, you may want advice about returning to a vigorous sport after time away, guidance about a new diet plan you’re considering, or advice about a possible symptom.

Additionally, a wellness visit is a good opportunity for the provider to ask you some age-appropriate questions. There are questions designed to screen for health risks specific to your demographic, which cover topics such as sleep habits, diet, physical activity, sexual health, drugs and alcohol, mood, and risk-taking behaviors.

If you see a provider regularly, you may or may not need an annual visit If you have regular or occasional contact with a provider, especially if you have a chronic condition, this sort of check-up visit may be less important, especially if you cover these topics during your ongoing visits. Often, though, visits for illnesses or problems don’t allow the time and space for the broader “State of the Union” conversation I describe above. It may be worth taking additional time for a comprehensive health assessment. It’s not always easy to open up about personal issues, and having a visit that allows time for a broad conversation may help you raise a topic you’ve hesitated to mention.

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Dr. Davis Smith is a practicing internist and a staff physician at the University of Connecticut. He specializes in the care of transgender, gay and lesbian, and adolescent patients. Previously he worked at Trinity College and Wesleyan University.