A Gynecologist Exam Yearly? Many Doctors Still Say Yes, Even if You Don't Need Pap Test
In new guidelines, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists says women should keep to a schedule of annual “well woman” exams. ACOG’s guidance comes just months after medical groups said most women need to have a Pap smear every three years, beginning at age 21, and less frequently for those age 30 and over if the Pap is combined with human papillomavirus testing.
Even if women do not get a Pap test, an annual visit should include a pelvic exam, said ACOG, while acknowledging that “no evidence supports or refutes” the value of the exam for finding problems in women who have no symptoms.
“Many women refer to going to see their gynecologist as going in for their Pap smear. But there are many other things involved,” said Gerald Joseph Jr., vice president of practice activities for ACOG. According to the college, annual visits can be used to screen for STDs and other health problems, check blood pressure and weight, update immunizations, perform breast exams, and build doctor-patient relationships.
ACOG’s new guidelines also come as part of the new US health care law takes effect, requiring most insurers to fully cover annual checkups by gynecologists and other providers.
The executive director of the nonprofit women’s health group Our Bodies Ourselves lauded the new federal rules on annual visit coverage. But “most women don’t like going once a year to a doctor,” said Judy Norsigian. “If they are told there’s no evidence they benefit from it, they are not going to do it.”
However, Joseph believes the annual pelvic exam will remain a “ritual” for many women, who are reassured when no obvious abnormality is found, as is usually the case.
[PNU editor’s note: To access the guidelines, visit http://www.acog.org/Resources_And_Publications/Committee_Opinions/Committee_on_Gynecologic_Practice/Well-Woman_Visit.]
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