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Patient using virtual care to talk to a doctor on a video call for his annual health checkup.

April 17, 2023 • read

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Should I see a doctor even if I feel fine?

Canadians aren’t placing enough importance on preventative medical care. We know this because chronic diseases like cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and chronic respiratory diseases account for 65% of deaths every year in this country — despite many of their underlying causes being preventable.

In fact, 80% of Canadians have at least one modifiable risk factor for chronic disease. In other words, a simple change in their lifestyle might be lifesaving — or at least life-prolonging. Here’s when to seek out preventative care and see a doctor, even if you feel fine.

The importance of preventive care and annual checkups

Your long-term health and well-being depend on a collection of behaviours — everything from eating well to maintaining strong social connections to seeking regular medical care.

Not practicing these forms of preventative care can lead to long-term health issues, mental health problems, and more frequent illness. It may also delay needed treatment, which can worsen health outcomes and prolong recovery.

While all Canadians should be able to reap the benefits of regular health checkups, one thing that often holds them back from seeking out preventative care is difficulty finding a primary care doctor. If you’re among the 20% of Canadians without a family doctor, the preventive health assessments you need may feel out of reach.

That’s where we come in. Maple is a virtual care platform that connects you with Canadian-licensed doctors and specialists from your phone, tablet, or computer. With Maple, you can receive a general health assessment to get the preventive health checkups you’ve been missing.

Not only does this give you a 360° view of your health, but it can also alert you to risk factors before they can become serious health issues. Maple stores all your medical records in one place, so you can access them anytime. And, it’s all accessible without leaving your house or taking half a day off work.

Should I schedule an annual checkup with my doctor?

Annual physicals have become less prevalent in much of the country because they generally don’t keep Canadians healthier. In some cases, they may prompt unnecessary procedures or testing. As a result, the format of your annual checkup has likely changed.

So, what does a regular checkup consist of these days? Well, that’ll depend on where you live.

British Columbia, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, and Nunavut no longer allow physicians to bill for annual full-body physicals unless their patient has serious health issues or a pre-existing health condition that requires it. Ontario is a gray zone that allows for “periodic health visits” based on the patient’s individual needs.

But even in provinces like Alberta and Manitoba that haven’t done away with the annual exam, the specific details of what it includes vary. To understand what you’re entitled to and what health issues to monitor, you’ll need to speak to your healthcare provider.

Why you should see a doctor regularly even if you feel fine

While the importance of regular medical checkups in preventing disease may be in dispute, that doesn’t mean you can forego regular preventative care. Here are eight reasons to see the doctor even if you feel fine.

1. Your family medical history changes

Genetics play a role in many forms of disease, and if your family medical history has changed, chances are your health profile has too.

For example, women with the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes have a higher risk of developing breast cancer. If one of your direct relatives develops a form of breast cancer associated with these genes, that bumps you into a higher risk category for the disease.

As a result, your healthcare provider will likely recommend genetic testing, regular mammograms, or other procedures to monitor your health.

Breast cancer isn’t the only disease this applies to. The same holds true if you develop a family history of diabetes, high cholesterol, heart disease, cancer, or another significant disease. No matter the issue, if there’s a major change in your family’s medical history, it’s best to update your provider right away.

2. You’re experiencing unusual symptoms or changes to your health

Most medical issues don’t begin as full-blown problems. Instead, they develop gradually, over time. One of the major benefits of preventive health care is that it can help catch a small problem before it has the chance to turn into a large one.

For example, you may attribute breathlessness after a flight of stairs to a lack of cardiovascular fitness, and in most cases, it probably is. But, shortness of breath may also signal that something is going on with your heart, lungs, or even blood.

Seeing your provider for out-of-the-ordinary symptoms helps you detect diseases or spot health red flags early. As a result, you can make lifestyle changes or seek treatment proactively, increasing your chances of a favourable outcome.

3. For a sexual health checkup

Untreated sexually-transmitted infections (STIs) can cause a variety of issues, especially when it comes to your fertility and reproductive health.

To this end, women and men need sexual health screening — ideally each time you switch partners. Even if you’re in a monogamous relationship, screening for chlamydia and gonorrhea is recommended annually if you’re under 30. That’s because these STIs may result in nonspecific symptoms, or even be asymptomatic, increasing their potential to go undetected.

Moreover, certain STIs, including the human papillomavirus (HPV), can crop up months or even years after you contract them. Since some strains of HPV cause cervical cancer, sexually-active women need a Pap smear every three years after age 25. This’ll screen for signs of cervical dysplasia, which can be a precursor for cervical cancer.

4. To check your basic vitals

“Normal” covers a wide range, but it’s important that your provider knows what’s normal for you. Seeing your doctor, even if you’re feeling fine, gives them the opportunity to monitor your basic vital signs like your breathing, heartbeat, blood pressure and sometimes, blood sugar.

Ideally, your personal medical records should be up-to-date and contain this information. But if you’ve avoided visiting the doctor for the last decade, important things may have changed without you or your provider realizing it.

For example, blood pressure levels that creep up over the years could potentially indicate issues like sleep apnea or diabetes, and put you at risk for things like heart disease.

Without knowing your baseline, your provider might miss a change in your blood pressure from the lower end of the range to the upper limit of what’s considered acceptable. Regular vital checks can help them identify warning signs and refer you for further testing.

5. For a routine mental health screening

Mental illness isn’t always obvious. Many people think that depression manifests as constant feelings of sadness. While that may be true for some, others experience anger, irritability, sleeplessness, or physical aches and pain.

Seeing your provider regularly allows them to ask about changes to your eating or sleeping habits, or shifts in your mood. This can provide valuable clues that something has changed with your mental health.

6. To manage chronic and ongoing health issues

Chronic health issues require ongoing medical intervention, whether to assess the effects of a new medication or therapy, or simply to monitor your condition. If you have a chronic illness, you’ll need a standing annual appointment with your healthcare provider, at minimum.

For more complex cases and conditions like heart disease or diabetes, you’ll likely have to see your provider every three to six months or more frequently. With your physician, you can figure out the best schedule for your unique circumstances.

7. For advice on improving your health

If you’re wondering how to make healthy shifts in your life, stop Googling and speak to a doctor. Unlike Dr. Google, your healthcare provider is a medical expert. This means they can help you develop a regular health routine that’s appropriate for you and accounts for any preexisting conditions you may have.

Not only can your doctor help you make good decisions about health, they can also support you through the process. From quitting smoking to managing anxiety, your healthcare provider is a valuable source of evidence-based and reputable advice on improving your health. They can also connect you with additional support or experts if ever required.

8. For health screening tests

Age and health are correlated, and as you age, you become more susceptible to various illnesses and conditions. Often, this means more frequent doctor visits for acute issues. It also means you’ll need preventative care more frequently.

Your bones, eyes, and blood sugar levels are just some things that need more attention with each subsequent birthday. For example, you won’t need regular blood testing checkups in your 30s (unless you have certain risk factors). However, once you hit 40, you’ll need a blood glucose test to screen for signs of diabetes every three years.

How online doctors can help

Not having a doctor doesn’t just make it hard to have urgent conditions looked at or get a prescription renewed. This can also make it feel impossible to get a specialist referral or book much-needed diagnostic testing, leaving many Canadians without the recommended preventative care they should be getting.

Accessing virtual healthcare can empower you by closing these gaps. With Maple, you can connect to a doctor within minutes, through your phone, tablet, or computer. Or, for a more thorough look at your health, you can book a virtual general health assessment.

This appointment allows you to take a deep dive into your health, examine your personal and family medical history, and discuss any recent changes in your health. If the assessment turns up something new or noteworthy, the provider can refer you for further testing if required.

Beyond that, Maple offers timely access to specialists, so you can schedule that dermatologist, therapist, endocrinologist, dietitian, or other specialist appointment you’ve been meaning to book. And, there’s no referral necessary.

While it’s important to see a healthcare provider when you have an acute issue, preventative care is just as important. Stay on top of your health by reaching out to make an online appointment today.

This blog was developed by our team and reviewed by a medical professional.

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