Schedule your annual health screenings today

You’ve likely heard the “set it and forget it” line from Ron Popeil on countless TV infomercials over the years, and may have even enjoyed the resulting convenience of his rotisserie ovens. The line is catchy because it’s memorable. Unfortunately, when it comes to our personal health, too many of us are not setting annual checkups and are forgetting to talk to our doctors about routine screenings.

This week is National Women’s Health Week (May 12-18), and women are being bombarded with information about what they should do to stay healthy. The news and tips are out there because medical recommendations change over time, and our country’s preventive health efforts have room for improvement. Therefore, when women do go to the doctor, it’s important that they get the screenings that provide the most benefit.

We now know that the pap smear—traditionally a rite of passage for women—doesn’t need to be an annual event. The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and the American Cancer Society recently recommended that routine cervical cancer screening exams for women with no special risk factors should only be performed every three years for women aged 21 to 29, every five years for women aged 30 to 65, and after age 65 only in certain situations. Also, ACOG recommends that women under 21 don’t need cervical cancer screening.

Just because women may be able to skip their pap smear this year, doesn’t mean that they don’t need other screenings, tests or vaccinations. A significant number of women don’t take advantage of mammograms, colonoscopies, Type 2 diabetes screenings, osteoporosis screenings, shingles and Tdap, even though these are typically covered depending on your age and vaccine history — and at no out-of-pocket cost if you meet the national preventive guidelines.

For example, in Wisconsin, Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield’s Member Health Index shows that 32.6 percent of our health plan members eligible for mammograms are not getting them. We know that treatment for breast cancer is more likely to be successful when found early. That’s why it’s important for women to discuss with their doctor if a mammogram would be recommended for them beginning at age 40 and to make sure mammograms are performed every two years at age 50 and older.

Mammograms are just one example of the many things women can do that may help improve their health. I urge all women to please take time this week to make that appointment for a routine check-up and any appropriate screenings. Talk to your doctor about whether there’s anything else you should be doing to manage your health, and then ask your female friends and family if they’ve done the same. (Don’t forget to give the men a not-so-gentle reminder to go to the doctor too). You just might be the inspiration they need to take control of their own health.

Remember: set it and don’t forget it. Schedule your annual exam today.

Dr. Michael Jaeger is the managing medical director of Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield in Wisconsin.

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