End of The Year Health Reminders

The end of each year often finds us bustling around, trying to find time for fitting everything in. Travel, holidays, school breaks, celebrations and get-togethers, while fun, can elevate your stress and take a toll on your health. With resetting health plan deductibles and expiring flexible spending accounts (FSA) or health spending accounts (HSA), it’s important to make time to inventory your health needs and end the year strong.

“Every year, we should prepare a to-do list for our health,” said Anita Santpurkar, DO, a Board-certified family medicine physician with Memorial Hermann Medical Group (MHMG) in Northwest Houston, near Cypress. “Especially if your health has been negatively impacted by the busyness of the season, it’s unwise to put off care.”

But, if you’re lucky enough to remain healthy, Dr. Santpurkar recommends taking the following steps to set yourself up for a healthy new year.

Have an Annual Checkup

“If you haven’t had a checkup with your primary care doctor this year, now’s the time to do so,” Dr. Santpurkar said. “When we see our patients at least yearly during their well visit, we’re more likely to recognize unusual symptoms, vital signs or lab values that may indicate the beginning stages of diseases.”

Dr. Santpurkar advises people to schedule their annual checkup in the same month each year, so they remember to make it and keep it. During this annual visit, primary care doctors discuss and order any recommended health screenings, evaluate overall health, and educate patients about important health indicators, such as body weight and body mass index (BMI), blood pressure, sleep problems and any changes in bathroom habits, skin, mental health and cognition. Doctors also review and administer necessary vaccines, assess dosages and renew prescriptions for regular medications.

Get Screenings

Most health screening recommendations are based on a person’s gender, age and health history, including their family history. Dr. Santpurkar stresses the importance of these screenings to detect early disease.

“Many people fear health screenings because they’ve heard stories about cancer being uncovered,” she said. “That’s exactly why we recommend these screenings. Cancer caught at its earliest stage is often treatable and can, in some cases, be curable.” Just as important, though, are the other early-stage conditions that can be detected and addressed to prevent future health problems, she says.

Memorial Hermann’s guide to screenings is updated according to the latest recommendations and guidelines from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) and health care advisory boards and is available and downloadable here.

Inventory Medications

Dr. Santpurkar also encourages people to discuss their regular medications with their doctor at least once a year to ensure any prescriptions, supplements or over-the-counter formulas are still providing their intended benefits. It’s also the perfect time to renew any prescriptions that may no longer have refills available.

“It’s vital, too, that patients bring a list of their medications and supplements and the dosages they take to all of their doctor appointments,” she said. “That list helps us prevent any drug interactions if we need to prescribe a new medication or higher dose.”

Review Your FSA or HSA Funds

Finally, many people forget to use the funds they’ve saved over the year to purchase qualified medical expenses as part of their pre-tax flexible spending account (FSA) or health savings account (HSA). For accounts that expire each year, and the money saved may not roll over into the next calendar year.

Depending on the terms of your FSA or HSA, usually provided as part of employee benefits packages, “qualified medical expenses” may include over-the-counter health care products like pain relievers, cold medicines, bandages, menstrual products, thermometers and eyeglasses. They may also include co-pays and deductibles, not covered by your health plan. You may be surprised, though, to know that FSAs and HSAs may also cover the following:

  • Sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or higher
  • Travel for medical care for up to $50 per night, per person
  • Transportation to medical care, including ambulance charges, tolls and parking fees
  • Medical conferences related to chronic disease management
  • Medical-related home improvements, like building of an entrance ramp or installing handrails
  • Substance abuse treatment

Be sure to review the terms of your FSA or HSA and how to submit receipts to get reimbursed for these items.

“Just like so many of us make resolutions in the new year to improve some aspect of our lives, the end of the year is a great time to be sure you enter the new year with the best health possible,” Dr. Santpurkar said. “These tips can help set you up for success.”