In the Spotlight
Checking Up on Your Health
Most of us think we know the recipe for staying healthy: eat right, stay active, get enough rest, and control stress. But when we feel good, we may overlook another important, ingredient - the checkup.
If you are a Veteran, a regular checkup helps your health care team note any changes in your health that should be monitored or addressed. Checkups are also a chance to get a flu shot or other vaccines, and tests and screenings that could detect problems before you have symptoms.
Adults are generally advised to get a checkup every year. But frequency depends on age and health, according to Dr. Linda Kinsinger, Chief Consultant for Preventive Medicine at the Veterans Health Administration's (VHA) National Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention in Durham, N.C. Because most Veterans have at least one health condition, "the first question to ask your health care team is how often to get a checkup," said Kinsinger.
What to Expect at a Checkup
A checkup often includes talking with your doctor and other members of your health care team and getting a physical examination. After that, your health care provider may order tests and offer medical advice or treatment.
The Talk. Your first checkup will involve answering questions about your past and present health, as well as the health of family members. You will most likely get a health history form to fill out before you meet with the health care provider. On return visits, you will only have to update any health information that has changed since your last visit. Your doctor will want to know how you feel and whether you have any health concerns or problems. You will also need to discuss what medicines and supplements you take, how often you exercise and whether you use tobacco, alcohol or other drugs.
The Examination. Your weight, height and blood pressure are taken first, usually by a nurse. A doctor may check your heart, lungs, stomach, mouth, ears, joints, skin or spine, depending on your circumstances.
The Next Steps. Your provider may order blood tests to detect conditions such as diabetes or high cholesterol. Depending on your conversation, age and family history, your doctor may also order other tests or screenings, such as a mammogram or a test for colorectal cancer. The VHA recommends that most Veterans, regardless of age, gender, health status and family history, get screened for alcohol abuse, depression, high blood pressure, HIV, military sexual trauma, post traumatic stress disorder and tobacco use. If you already have a health problem, the doctor may recommend medication or other treatments.
If you think you need a test or screening that the doctor has not discussed, ask. "Patients should feel empowered to raise questions," said Kinsinger. "Communication needs to come from both sides to make sure everyone's questions and issues are addressed."
How My HealtheVet Can Help
Using the tools on My HealtheVet can help you get ready for your checkup. Keep track of your medications and health history. Use the VA Blue Button to download and print copies of the records to share with your health care providers. If you have an upgraded account, you can use My HealtheVet to get reminders about checkups, screenings, vaccines and other wellness measures. Healthy Living Centers have wellness information to help you stay healthy.
"My HealtheVet reminds me of vaccinations I am due for that I wouldn't have otherwise remembered," said OEF/OIF Veteran Evelyn Peguero. To avoid busy phone lines, she saves time using Secure Messaging to schedule visits with her health care providers. Someone responds to the messages within 24 hours, Peguero said. And using My HealtheVet to check her lab results helps her prepare questions for her doctor before her appointment.
"My HealtheVet gives us responsibility for our own health," said Peguero. "We can basically take care of our health from home."