Dear Lucy: My husband just turned 30, exercises regularly, and is generally very healthy. He hasn’t been to the doctor in about five years, and when I ask him about setting up an appointment for a checkup, he tells me he’s not sick. Furthermore, his last doctor (five years ago) asked him why he bothered coming in when he was healthy and told him not to waste her time.
So now I’m wondering: When should healthy adults go to the doctor? Is there a good rule of thumb for screenings and checkups? And is it different for men than for women? —Wondering
Dear Wondering: What great questions! You’re probably not the only one who has wondered about these things, and now that you’ve asked, you’ve got Lucy wondering as well. Five years without seeing a doctor seems like a long time, but is it really? For an answer, Lucy turned to someone who was sure to know, Associate Medical Director David Diamond, M.D.
According to Diamond, it’s probably fine that your husband’s gone as long as he has without a doctor’s visit, but he shouldn’t wait too much longer to make an appointment for another checkup. “Every five years is probably okay for most men between the ages of 20 to 40,” Diamond says, “but some men might want to see a doctor more frequently depending on personal and family risk profiles, and there may be some preventive types of things that should happen between checkups. For example, you’d want to get a tetanus booster when you’re due for one rather than waiting another year or two until you go in for a full physical.”
Ideally, Diamond notes, if an individual has a “medical home,” like MIT Medical, some of these preventative measures can be addressed during visits for incidental illnesses or injuries. On the other hand, Diamond adds, “while most healthy young men would be fine with a checkup every five years, I personally recommend a ‘routine visit’ every two years or so in the 20- 50-year age range and once a year thereafter.”
As far as sex differences, Diamond notes that the need for regular cervical exams and breast cancer screenings leads to more frequent, routine, targeted surveillance exams for women. “Depending on risk factors, a woman may see a doctor every one to two years up to age 40 and annually thereafter.”
But general guidelines are just that—general. Individual needs and recommendations may differ, Diamond notes, and this is something you and your husband should discuss with your clinicians at the time of your next visits. Hope this helps! —Lucy