The annual well woman exam can be intimidating to some. There is understandable apprehension and worry surrounding the exam, the state of undress, the potential for discomfort. From the physician’s point of view this visit encompasses much more than the “Pap Smear”. Your clinician will discuss topics ranging from a healthy diet, your family history and your breast health to any bothersome symptoms you may be experiencing, screening tests you may need, questions you may have about sexuality and safe sex practices as well as any family planning needs you may have. All of this and many other concerns are part of an annual well woman exam, the aim of which is to promote health and prevent disease before it starts.
As women progress through life, the annual visit affords us the ability to stay current with our patient’s lifestyles and risk factors. There are so many advances in medicine that every year new guidelines come out that may or may not affect a woman based on her personal behaviors, family history and lifestyle choices. Annual exams help women stay on track for our overall wellbeing.
The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG) recommends well woman exams annually and at El Camino Women’s Medical Group, so do we.
Common components of an annual Well Woman Exam:
- Updates of medical history
- Review of family history
- Review of behaviors
- Weight and blood pressure
- Physical exam usually including a breast and pelvic exam
- Discussion about individualized healthy lifestyle guidelines and screening tests
You may have heard about some new guidelines surrounding a woman’s annual exam from the US preventative task force (USPSTF), which state “there is not enough evidence to make for or against screening” with pelvic exams for the annual visit- specifically in women who are asymptomatic, not pregnant and over 18.
If this sounds confusing, that’s because it is vague and does leave women wondering what to do. What does this mean for you as informed patient? What this does mean is that depending upon your personal circumstances, you may not need the pelvic portion of the exam.
To understand a little bit more about these new guidelines and why there seems to be a difference of opinion between the USPSTF and ACOG, it’s important to understand how each group makes their recommendations. The USPSTF is made up of experts in public health, making recommendations for the care of 300 million Americans based on data. ACOG is made up of OB/GYNs, also using data, filtered through the clinical experience of specialists in women’s health.
Here at El Camino Women’s Medical Group, our highest priority is your health and taking the best care of you. Based on our experience caring for women for decades, our agreement with the ACOG guidelines and our on-going independent review of research, it’s our belief that women are best served by continuing to have annual well women exams.
Understanding the data from large populations is important and placing that data in the context of the specific needs of the patient sitting on the exam table is of even more importance. Should you have any questions about the need for a pelvic exam- speak to your clinician Annual visits are always an opportunity to make improvements- so be sure to keep your yearly visits- whether you decide to have a pelvic exam or not.