It’s the season of flu and cold viruses. This might be the time of year when people experiencing a wintertime illness will seek medical advice. Terrell Jenrette, MD, is a 2020 graduate of Mercer University School of Medicine and a primary care physician with Atrium Health Floyd Primary Care in Rockmart, Georgia. Dr. Jenrette explains why a primary care physician is essential in keeping people healthy throughout all stages of life, and not just during flu season and times of illness.
“The primary care physician is the one doctor who knows your baseline. They know you when you are not sick. Having someone that you can go to and say ‘I’m not feeling well’ — they’ve seen you for months and years and can say something is definitely off and that is incredibly important,” said Dr. Jenrette.
Primary care physicians are the ones to complete screenings. “Whether a patient is a newborn or geriatric age, there are always some screenings that need to happen.” Making sure patients are well – and stay well – is essential. Things like hypertension and diabetes, which may not produce symptoms, can be caught early through regular visits.
What does a typical well-visit look like?
The basis of a well-visit is the same for most ages, including labs and vitals, with some age- or gender-appropriate adjustments through the years. For Dr. Jenrette, the mental well-being of each patient is as much a priority as their physical well-being. Patients complete a Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ-9) and a General Anxiety Disorder (GAD) screening at each visit to check for depression and anxiety.
Patients in their 20s:
This is the time when physicians create a foundation of good health. Physicians explore issues that can be common in this age group.
- Smoking and alcohol consumption are assessed and discouraged.
- If sexually active, patients receive basic education and sexually transmitted infections (STI) screenings are encouraged.
- Pap smears for women begin.
- Lab work to measure electrolytes and liver and kidney function, as well as a check for diabetes, will be completed.
- Patients should receive vaccines for flu and COVID and other age-appropriate vaccines.
Patients in their 30s:
Well-visits for patients in their 30s are much like the ones for patients in their 20s. “We often have to start talking about exercise. A twenty-year-old can get away with a lot less exercise than a thirty-year-old,” said Dr. Jenrette.
- Physicians will encourage patients to establish a regular exercise routine to help lay the foundation for better health in later years.
- Smoking and alcohol consumption are further assessed and discouraged.
Patients in their 40s:
Though patients may not be experiencing any symptoms in this age group, heart health becomes a focus during regular checkups.
- Physicians will explore any family history of heart disease or heart attacks.
- Colonoscopy screenings for men and women are recommended at age 45.
- Physicians still encourage patients to quit smoking and limit alcohol consumption.
Patients in their 50s:
Diagnoses start to accumulate as well as prescribed medications; some of these could be avoided if regular well-visits are done earlier. Dr. Jenrette said, “This is the age when many people start going to the doctor for the first time since seeing a pediatrician.”
- Colonoscopies are strongly encouraged at age 50.
- Mammograms generally have begun.
- If patients, particularly men, have been smoking for several years, screening for an abdominal aortic aneurysm is highly recommended and lung cancer screenings should be performed.
Patients in their 60s:
Medicare wellness visits begin at this stage as an extra step in determining health in older patients.
- Low-risk women may stop pap smears at age 65, if they have a history of normal results.
- Colonoscopies are still important for this age group.
- Vaccines for pneumonia, flu, RSV, shingles, and COVID are advised.
Patients in their 70s and Older:
People in their 70s are part of the vulnerable population, and ensuring these patients have help around them is crucial. “We want to make sure that the people around you are taking care of you, and you are not being neglected in any way,” said Dr. Jenrette.
- Assessments for mental function, such as memory and attention to detail, are performed.
- Patients are assessed for what activities they can do independently.
- Chronic issues are monitored closely.
Top 5 Tips to Stay Healthy:
- Eat less than 2,000 calories per day and make sure your plate has a good variety of healthy foods. Vegetables should make up half of your plate. Choosing proteins that are not fried and less fatty are preferred. Be selective of the breads and pastas that you eat, especially if you are diabetic.
- Exercise is important for mental and physical health, and 150 minutes per week is recommended for heart health. For weight loss, an hour each day for 4 to 7 days a week, plus a healthy diet, is key.
- Quit smoking and limit alcohol intake as these can cause health issues.
- Adults should see their primary care physician at least once per year. However, while insurance typically covers well visits every 12 months at any age, Dr. Jenrette recommends seeing a primary care physician twice per year when patients reach their forties.
- One of the leading causes of death for men is accidents. Taking precautions when pursuing activities or risky behaviors is important.