Most diseases have much better outcomes if caught early, leading to better survival and recovery rates, quality of life, decreased financial impact and more. That’s why we want to shed light on the importance of health screenings, and with October being both Breast Cancer Awareness Month and AIDS Awareness Month, it feels like the perfect time. Not only can early detection improve outcomes for these diseases, knowing the state of your condition can also help you take control of your health. In fact, when detected early, breast cancer patients have a 99% survival rate for the first five years after diagnosis. And, since its peak in 2004, AIDS-related deaths have decreased by 68%, in many cases due to new prevention tools, methods and availability of HIV treatments.
Health screenings can give you a snapshot of what’s happening inside your body at a given time and can provide additional pieces of information on the state of your health. While doctors can help keep patients on track and up to date with their health screenings, it's also important that patients are empowered to play an active role in their healthcare and can advocate for the tests and screenings they need.
It’s not always practical to run to the emergency room for a health screening, and specialist appointments aren’t always readily accessible – especially as appointment wait times can often be months long. Virtual care can be a convenient way to receive advice from a medical professional, to talk through how you’re feeling, and get a better idea of how your symptoms may be interconnected. Based on the conversation, your healthcare provider may refer you for additional testing and a follow up in-person care, but virtual visits can be a great place to start.
There are a few different ways medical professionals can screen for a variety of health conditions virtually, including:
Instructional At-Home Exams
While many tests need to be performed in person, there are some that can be done from the comfort of your own home. For example, even though the ability to detect breast cancer cannot be done solely by a self-breast exam, it is still recommended for all women over age 20 to get comfortable examining their own breasts. The hope is that with regular exams, you will be able to detect any slight change and bring it to the attention of your doctor. If you’re having difficulties or don’t know where to start, ask your doctor during your next virtual visit. Your provider can walk you through how to perform the exam and guide you through the process. It’s still recommended by the American Cancer Society that women over 55 get a mammogram every two years (if you haven’t already made an appointment for one, now is the perfect time), but self-exams are an excellent place to start and should be performed on a monthly basis.
Getting a regular physical is an important part of preventative healthcare. Unfortunately, 1 in 4 Americans do not have a primary care provider. Virtual primary care has gained traction recently in an effort to expand access to primary care. Whether virtual or in person, a PCP can help patients stay on top of their health. Take this real-life scenario for example – a patient chose virtual primary care for a mild residual cough that she developed after recovering from COVID-19. Prior to her virtual primary care appointment, the patient hadn’t seen a PCP in three years. A close look at her medical history indicated that Isabella underwent a pap smear a few years earlier that came back with mildly abnormal results, but Isabella never scheduled a follow-up appointment. The primary care provider discussed the need for further testing with Isabella and connected her with an OB/GYN who could meet Isabella’s needs. A PCP can be instrumental in helping patients stay on track with their health and virtual primary care can be an excellent solution for anyone currently without a PCP.
Virtual primary care visits are also a great time to discuss your symptoms and how you’re feeling overall. Based on the conversation, your provider may order a blood test. The only way to know if you have human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), which can lead to acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) if not treated, is to get screened through a blood test. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends testing for HIV once a year if you have certain risk factors; all other people ages 13 to 64 are recommended to test at least once in their lifetime as part of their routine healthcare plan.
Questionnaires During Doctors Visits
Medical professionals will often utilize health questionnaires to help better understand a patient’s risk for various diseases based on current symptoms and medical and family history. These questionnaires can equip doctors with the information needed to create a more customized health screening and test schedule. For example, patients who have breast cancer in their family may be told to start getting mammograms earlier than 50. Additionally, patients that report having difficulty getting out of bed can be referred to a psychologist for mental health treatment. Pre-visit questionnaires, or active discussions with your doctor during urgent care or routine visits, both virtually and in-person, are critical in helping doctors screen for risk factors that can ultimately lead to the early detection and prevention of many diseases and illnesses.
The only way to be in control of your health is to know the state of your health and your risk factors, which is why screenings are so important. Some screenings are already a routine part of your healthcare plan, while others may only be necessary due to certain symptoms, family history, gender, age, and other factors. Nevertheless, ask your healthcare provider which screenings should be part of your plan and be open and honest with your doctor about any health concerns you have.