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Before the pandemic hit, you were (hopefully!) diligent with your health screenings, visiting your OB/GYN on a yearly basis, getting regular physicals, keeping up with appointments for any chronic health issues, and seeing a therapist if you struggled with your mental health.
Then 2020 hit, and visiting any indoor space with people in it felt unsafe—and that included a doctor's office. If you're now fully vaccinated and suddenly realizing you haven't stepped foot inside a doctor's office in over 15 months, you're not alone: According to a a study published at the end of April, nearly 10 million people missed important cancer screenings due to COVID-19.
If you were one of the many who fell behind on important doctor's appointments and health screenings, there's no time like the present to get back on track—and it's less overwhelming than you might think. Here's your health screening checklist, including the screenings you can do virtually.
Cervical Cancer Screening
When you visit your OB/GYN, they're conducting regular cervical cancer screenings. "[People with cervixes] ages 21 through 29 should have a pap test every three years," says Dr. Vivek Cherian, MD, an internal medicine physician affiliated with the University of Maryland Medical System. "Women ages 30 through 65 should be screened with either a pap test every three years or the HPV test every five years."
Can you screen for this virtually? No—for a cervical cancer screening, you need an in-office visit. "If you are fully vaccinated again COVID-19 you are considered extremely low risk in general, including when you go to visit your doctor," says Dr. Cherian. "But most doctor's offices are still requiring patients to wear masks regardless of your vaccination status at this time."
Meet the Expert
Dr. Vivek Cherian is an internal medicine physician dedicated to transforming personal and family wellness. He focuses on empowering the public by educating patients about preventative medicine and how leading-edge technology can improve your long-term health.
Breast Cancer Screening
Other than at-home breast exams and a quick exam by your OB/GYN when you visit for your yearly appointment, most people with breasts under age 40 are not required to get a mammogram. But if you're over 40 or have a family history of breast cancer, this is an important one to catch up on. "If you have other risk factors for breast cancer, your provider may recommend a screening mammogram or breast ultrasound," says Dr. Cherian. "If you have a mother or sister who had breast cancer at a young age, for example, you should begin screening earlier than the age the youngest relative was diagnosed."
Can you screen for this virtually? No—mammograms and breast ultrasounds need to be conducted in a doctor's office.
When we say infections, we're mostly talking about sexually transmitted infections. "People who are sexually active should be screened for chlamydia and gonorrhea up until age 25," says Dr. Cherian. "Above the age of 25 you should be screened as needed if you're in a higher risk group.
Additionally, all adults over 18 should get a hepatitis C screening at least once in their lifetime. "You may also need to be screened for other infections such as HIV and syphilis (to name a few) depending on your lifestyle," Dr. Cherian adds.
Can you screen for this virtually? You can do an STI risk assessment appointment with your doctor virtually, and they'll let you know whether or not they think you need to come in.
Mental Health Screening
This one is especially important after an isolation and anxiety-packed pandemic that left many of us in less-than-stellar mental health shape, says Dr. Cherian.
Can you screen for this virtually? Yes. "Depression screenings and referrals can be done via telehealth," Dr. Cherian says. There are many virtual therapy resources available, too, so make sure to take advantage of those.
Blood Pressure Screening
According to Dr. Cherian, you should have your blood pressure checked at least once every two years. If the top number (systolic number) is between 120 and 139, or the bottom number (diastolic number) is between 80 and 89 mmHg, you should have it checked every year. "If certain you have a medical condition like diabetes, heart disease or other condition, you may need to have your blood pressure checked more often than that," Dr. Cherian says.
Can you screen for this virtually? Yes. If you're overwhelmed by the amount of doctor's appointments you need to catch up on and don't have time to get to the doctor, Dr. Cherian says screening for this at home, as long as you have a blood pressure cuff, is fine.
A diabetes screening is especially important if you are overweight, have high blood pressure, or are planning to become pregnant soon, according to Dr. Cherian.
Can you screen for this virtually? No, an in-office assessment is recommended for an accurate diabetes screening.
If you're younger than 45, this may not be necessary just yet—unless you have you known risk factors. "If you're over 20 with known risk factors, it's important to get screened regularly," says Dr. Cherian. "With normal cholesterol levels you typically only need to be screened once every five years unless there is a change in your lifestyle like diet or weight."
Can you screen for this virtually? No—cholesterol screenings are done via blood test, which should be conducted in a medical setting.
Overall Lifestyle Screening
While you can't get bloodwork done via telehealth, you can set up a virtual appointment to ask your doctor important questions about your diet, exercise habits, and more. You can also do an obesity screening at home if you have a scale.
If you were one of the many who fell behind on health screenings during the pandemic, rest assured that your healthcare providers won't shame you for it—they'll just be happy you're taking action now. So get those appointments scheduled sooner rather than later, especially the easy virtual ones.