The Basics: Overview
Schedule a well-woman visit with your doctor or nurse every year. The well-woman visit is an important way to help you stay healthy.
Well-woman visits include a full checkup, separate from any other visit for sickness or injury. These visits focus on preventive care for women, which may include:
- Services, like shots, that improve your health by preventing diseases and other health problems
- Screenings, which are medical tests to check for diseases early when they may be easier to treat
- Education and counseling to help you make informed health decisions
What happens during a well-woman visit?
Your well-woman visit is a chance to focus on your overall health and wellness. There are 3 main goals for the visit:
- Documenting your health habits and history
- Getting a physical exam
- Setting health goals
The Basics: What to Expect
1. Health habits and history
Before your physical exam, the doctor or nurse will ask you to answer some questions about your overall health. These questions may cover topics like your:
- Medical history and family health history
- Sexual health and sexual partners
- Eating habits and physical activity
- Use of alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs
- Use of any medicines, vitamins, minerals, or herbs
- Mental health history, including depression
- Relationships and safety
2. Physical exam
The doctor or nurse will examine your body, which may include:
- Measuring your height and weight
- Calculating your body mass index (BMI) to see if you are at a healthy weight
- Checking your blood pressure
- Taking your temperature
- Doing a clinical breast exam (feeling your breasts and under your arms for lumps or other changes)
- Doing a pelvic exam (looking at your vagina and feeling around your pelvis)
3. Health goals
You and the doctor or nurse will talk about the next steps for helping you stay healthy. Together, you can decide which screenings or follow-up services are right for you.
If you have health goals, like losing weight or quitting smoking, you and your doctor or nurse can make a plan to help you meet these goals.
Take Action: Get Ready
Take these steps to get the most out of your well-woman visit.
Know your family health history.
Your family's health history is an important part of your personal health record. Use this family health history tool to keep track of conditions that run in your family.
Be prepared to tell your doctor or nurse this information during your well-woman visit. Don't forget to share any new health problems in your family since your last visit.
Make a list of questions for your doctor.
This visit is a great time to ask the doctor or nurse any questions about:
- Birth control options
- Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs)
- Preparing to get pregnant
- Your safety and relationships
- Anxiety, depression, or other mental health issues
- Eating healthy
- Being more active
Some important questions include:
- Do I need any important shots?
- How can I protect myself from HIV and other STDs?
- Which form of birth control is right for me?
- How do I know if my relationship is healthy and safe?
- Where can I get help for a mental health issue?
- What changes can I make to eat healthier?
- How can I be more physically active?
Take a notepad or smart phone and write down the answers so you remember them later.
Take Action: Ask about Screenings
Talk with your doctor or nurse about which screenings you need.
Getting screening tests is one of the most important things you can do for your health. At your well-woman visit, the doctor or nurse may recommend screening you for:
- Certain types of cancer
- HPV (human papillomavirus, which can lead to cervical cancer)
- HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs)
- High blood pressure and cholesterol
- Osteoporosis (weak bones)
In addition to screenings, the doctor may sometimes recommend counseling for:
Use the myhealthfinder tool to find out which screening tests you may need.
What about cost?
Under the Affordable Care Act, the health care reform law passed in 2010, most insurance plans now cover at least one well-woman visit per year at no cost to you. Plans must also cover some screenings and types of counseling.
For more information about preventive services covered by the Affordable Care Act, visit HealthCare.gov. Contact your insurance provider to find out what’s covered by your plan.
Take Action: Follow Up
Follow up with the doctor or nurse after your visit.
During your well-woman visit, the doctor or nurse may recommend that you see a specialist or get certain screenings. Try to schedule these follow-up appointments before you leave the doctor’s office.
If that’s not possible, make a note on your calendar to schedule your follow-up appointments. You can ask the doctor's office to write down the phone number and address for you.
Take steps to stay healthy all year.
There are things you can do every day to stay healthy. Find tips on:
Content last updated January 22, 2020
This information on well-woman visits was adapted from materials from the Health Resources and Services Administration and the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.
CDR Nancy Mautone-Smith, MSW, LCSW
Office of Women's Health
Health Resources and Services Administration