What do a 6-month-old boy, 21-year-old woman, 40-year-old woman and 65-year-old man have in common?

If they want to maintain their best health, they should all see their doctor regularly for a wellness exam. And so should every age in between, younger and older.

Measures taken there, from immunizations to cancer screenings, might save their life.

While many may have put off their routine exams because of the coronavirus pandemic, now is a perfect time to schedule them. Sanford Health clinics have implemented new safety measures for the health of patients and employees. And in Fargo, North Dakota, patients now can take advantage of extended appointment hours into the evenings and weekends.

Kevin Ree, D.O., a family practice physician, recently shared some key points about wellness exams.

What is a wellness exam?

Obviously, a 6-month-old boy will have a different experience in an exam than a 40-year-old woman. “But primarily, the focus is going to be addressing the health maintenance and preventative tests or lab work that you may need based on those metrics,” Dr. Ree said.

That might involve cancer screening recommended for certain ages, or lab work to check cholesterol levels, or blood pressure or weight evaluations. “Then, on top of that, it will be reviewing what risk factors you may have and what things need to be treated or addressed more specific to each person,” he said.

Why is a wellness exam important?

The wellness exam offers the chance to detect conditions such as cancer or heart disease early. That could potentially save your life and also present simpler treatment options than a more advanced case would.

A key component of the wellness exam is establishing a relationship with a health care provider you trust, Dr. Ree said. With a more complete picture of you, your background and your family history, the provider can offer care personalized to you, letting you craft a wellness plan together.

“Sometimes, the family history will be really a key component to what screening tests they’re due for,” Dr. Ree said. “It may change the age at which we would recommend a certain screening test.”

Once you’ve found a provider you trust, you can comfortably ask them questions about concerns you have — not just in person during the wellness exam, but anytime through My Sanford Chart messages.

What about vaccinations?

The well child visits for infants and children follow a recommended immunization schedule. However, vaccination rates have fallen during the pandemic. Don’t worry if your child has fallen behind, though, Dr. Ree said. Providers have backup strategies to help kids catch up again, even if they’ve missed a couple of appointments.

“It may only take one visit to get you caught up,” he said.

The important thing: Get back on track. If the population of kids immunized for communicable diseases drops too much, it could put people unable to get immunized at risk if an outbreak occurs. “Their well-being and their health is dependent upon our entire community being vaccinated,” Dr. Ree said.

Vaccinations aren’t just for children, though. All ages benefit from the annual flu shot, a shingles vaccine can help those 50 and older, and those 65 and older can get a pneumonia vaccination. “You may qualify for some of those vaccines based on other health conditions, so again it comes back to that individualized care,” Dr. Ree said.

Why should I schedule a wellness exam now?

The extended hours for appointments makes this an excellent time to catch up on delayed care, Dr. Ree said. “You may find that it’s a little easier and a little less of a wait than you may have been accustomed to in the past.”

And summer is a convenient time to schedule well child visits for school-age kids. They can get their sports physical done at the same time, too.

What are some examples of clinic safety measures?

Patients who come into the clinic get asked questions to screen for COVID-19. If they’ve had the potential for an increased risk of exposure or symptoms, they immediately get taken to a room, away from others.

Waiting room furniture has been spaced apart so people won’t sit closer than six feet to other patients.

Health care staff get screened for fevers and wear masks and other appropriate protective equipment. Patients also wear masks.

“I feel that coming into the clinic here is about the safest place you’re going to go into in the community,” Dr. Ree said. “I’m very confident that we can treat people here safely in person in the clinic.”