You’re hopefully pretty good at calling the doctor when worrisome symptoms pop up or your prescription refills run out. But it’s all too easy to put off routine medical appointments when you’re pressed for time or just don’t feel like seeing a doctor when nothing seems wrong. Still, there’s a strong case for seeing all of your doctors on a regular basis.
“The goal for medicine should be prevention and wellness [instead of] chasing medical problems after they come up,” Amber Tully, M.D., a family medicine physician at Cleveland Clinic, tells SELF. Periodic doctors’ appointments help you stay on top of the various screenings, shots, and tests recommended for your demographic as well as detect and address any early signs and symptoms of a medical issue before they get worse, Dr. Tully explains.
A note before we get into the specific recommendations: All of the following guidelines are general, not individual directives. If you have any sort of chronic illness or ongoing medical concern, it’s essential to stay on top of appointments with your specialist(s). But we’d also be remiss not to acknowledge that factors like insurance coverage, financial means, and transportation matter when making decisions about your health care, and that these can potentially serve as barriers to access. For some people, it’s really not possible to see the doctor as often as we outline below.
That being said, here is some general, evidence-based advice on how often the average person should check in with their doctors.
See your primary care doctor at least once a year.
The Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (ODPHP) recommends an annual appointment with your primary care practitioner (PCP). “Your primary care practitioner is the gatekeeper of your health care and medical history,” Dr. Tully says. “Having a wellness visit and physical exam annually is of utmost importance.”
According to the ODPHP, these visits typically include a physical exam as well as preventive services like screenings for high blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol. (The ODPHP has a great tool to see all the screenings recommended for your age and sex in one place.) Counseling about your health habits and concerns and setting health goals for the future are also components of the visit, according to the ODPHP. Diet, exercise, sleep patterns, stress reduction, and mental health are all common topics of discussion, Dr. Tully says.
Annual appointments with the same PCP can help you cultivate a doctor-patient relationship that is ongoing and personal rather than sporadic and transactional. “It’s great if you can establish yourself with a practice you like and provider you trust,” Dr. Tully says. “You’re going to be better off seeing someone who knows you and has access to all your medical records—your personal history, your family history, [and] your risk factors.” While things like moving or switching insurance can interfere with this, it’s a good thing to keep in mind.
One more great reason to actually go to your annual appointment: PCPs can often step in if you’re in between appointments with the specialists we discuss below. For example, if you’re struggling with your current birth control method or have reason to believe you’ve been exposed to a sexually transmitted infection but your ob/gyn appointment isn’t for another six months, your PCP is equipped to handle that in the interim. (And if an issue of yours is outside their wheelhouse, your PCP should say so and help you find the care you need.)
See your ob/gyn at least once a year.
Yearly trips to the ob/gyn are an easy way to stay on track with the recommendations for important stuff like STI tests and cancer screenings. (The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has a patient guide with specific recommendations based on your age and risk factors.) Your ob/gyn will also do a pelvic exam to look for any abnormalities. Beyond that, these visits are your time to check in about absolutely anything having to do with your sexual and reproductive health, even if it doesn’t seem like that big of an issue to you.
“Sometimes, patients grow adapted to abnormal or unhealthy symptoms or conditions, and it becomes their new ‘normal,’” Susan Khalil, M.D., an ob/gyn at Mount Sinai, tells SELF. Think: period pain, pain during sex, spotting, unfamiliar vaginal discharge, difficulty getting aroused, problems with or questions about your birth control method, etc. “Women can get reassurance on what’s normal and what’s not,” Dr. Khalil explains.
See your dermatologist at least once a year or as often as recommended.
When it comes to skin health, there are actually no official recommendations or guidelines for how often everyone should check in with a dermatologist, Emily Newsom, M.D., a dermatologist at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, tells SELF.
The big consideration here is skin cancer and how often you should be screened for it. There are no official numbers to go by because skin exams are not proven to decrease your risk of dying from skin cancer, according to the National Cancer Institute (NCI). But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t make your own informed decision based on your individual risk factors, Dr. Newsom says. Skin cancer risk factors include having fair skin, light eyes or hair, a large number of moles, irregular moles, a family history of skin cancer, skin that burns or freckles easily, and a history of sun exposure and damage, according to the CDCemphasized text.
A good rule of thumb for people with these risk factors is to get screened once a year, Dr. Newsom says, although your dermatologist may make a different recommendation based on your case. For the average person with no skin cancer risk factors, every two to three years or so may work, Dr. Newsom says, but you should ask your PCP for their input. And if you’re dealing with any kind of skin condition like eczema or psoriasis or using a prescription medication, you’ll want to see your dermatologist as needed, which should be at least yearly.
See your eye doctor at least once every two years (or more often if you have a prescription).
Your eyeballs are pretty important, as are periodic eye exams. The American Optometric Association (AOA) recommends all adults between the ages of 18 and 65 who aren’t at risk for eye issues get an exam at least once every two years. After 65, that frequency should increase to annually.
These exams include a number of procedures to assess both your eyesight and ocular health, including pupil dilation to see the optic nerve and retina and a thorough look at the front of your eye to look for things like cataracts or cornea scratches. For these appointments, you can see an ophthalmologist, who is an M.D., or an optometrist, who is a non-M.D. provider that can treat most eye issues but does not perform surgery, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
However, if you have risk factors like diabetes, high blood pressure, or a family history of eye disease, then you need to see an eye doctor more frequently. This should be at least annually, according to the AOA, but you can ask your PCP or treating specialist how often you should go based on your diagnosis and health. Also, if you wear contact lenses or glasses, you’ll typically need to go in at least once a year to keep your prescription up to date.
See your dentist at least once a year.
For the majority of people, one to two yearly visits to the dentist chair should do it, according to the American Dental Association (ADA). These appointments will include both an exam of your oral health to check for cavities, gum disease, and any other red flags about your oral health, as well as a thorough cleaning.
But the ADA emphasizes that it’s important to talk to your dentist about how often you need to come in because dental health care maintenance is highly individual. For instance, the ADA notes that people with certain risk factors—including diabetes and smoking—are likely to benefit from more frequent dental exams and cleanings, while low-risk patients may fare just as well with one visit a year.
See your psychiatrist as often as recommended based on your mental health.
This one may be the most highly variable depending on the individual. Major medical governing bodies like the American Psychiatric Association (APA) don’t offer any blanket guidelines on how often people should see their prescribing psychiatrist. “It really depends a lot on the provider and the person,” Dr. Tully says, along with factors like the type of medication you’re on, how long you’ve been on it, and how well it is managing your symptoms.
For instance, somebody who has been stable on the same dose of antidepressants or anti-anxiety medications for years may only need an annual check-in, Dr. Tully says. (In many cases like this, she adds, PCPs can also do the job.) On the other hand, if you’ve just switched medications or adjusted doses, your psychiatrist will probably want to see you fairly frequently, like every few weeks for the first three to six months, then recalibrate after that. If you’re not sure, check in with them for guidance.