America's Health: Regular Doctor, Regular Screenings

Many studies suggest that people who don't have primary care physicians -- who go to emergency rooms for all their medical treatment -- miss out on cancer screenings and other preventive tests, so conditions that could have been treated if caught early become "potentially life-threatening," said Dr. Richard Besser, ABC News' senior health and medical editor on "Good Morning America."

According to Besser, finding the right primary care physician is one of the most important parts of any wellness exam. Choices may be limited by health insurance, but there should be a number of good fits in each health care network.

"First, it's important that you can trust your doctor with intimate issues," said Besser. It's important to consider a physician's gender, personality and years of experience when choosing, he said.

VIDEO: Dr. Besser offers tips on physical exams.
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It's also important to know if the doctor talks with patients in an office, when they're dressed and not in gowns.

"It indicates that they have made time to hear your concerns, and that they are respectful of your privacy," said Besser.

Once you've found the right doctor, here are a few recommended preventive tests to consider:

BODY MASS INDEX (BMI) A BMI tests measures your body fat based on your height and weight.

CHOLESTEROL Cholesterol tests are blood tests used to detect the total amount of fat in your blood.

BLOOD PRESSURE Your doctor should check your blood pressure at least once every two years, or more depending on your risk. After learning your numbers, your doctor may recommend some lifestyle changes to help maintain healthy blood pressure and lower your health risks.

BREAST CANCER SCREENING A clinical breast exam and a mammogram are two of the most common ways to screen for breast cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, if you are a woman age 40 or older, you should get a mammogram every year.

DIGITAL RECTAL EXAM A digital rectal exam is done to check for problems with organs typically below your stomach.

SKIN CHECK Many dermatologists recommend doing a self skin check monthly, so you can notice any changes in your skin.

SEXUALLY TRANSMITTED DISEASES Testing for sexually transmitted diseases is done in many different ways. Depending on your risk and sexual behavior, your doctor may recommend that you are screened.

HIV SCREENING Reasons your doctor may recommend screening for HIV include whether you have sex with men, have had unprotected sex with multiple partners, are getting treated for sexually transmitted diseases or have ever used injectable drugs.

DEPRESSION If you have felt "down" or hopeless during the past two weeks, or you have had little interest in doing things you usually enjoy, talk to your doctor about depression. Depression is a treatable illness.

ABDOMINAL AORTIC ANEURYSM SCREENING Doctors may recommend ultrasonography in men between the ages of 65 and 75 who have ever smoked.

PROSTATE SPECIFIC ANTIGEN (PSA) TEST A PSA test checks for levels of protein in prostate cells. A high level of protein in the blood may be a sign of prostate cancer.

For more information on these tests and others visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Also, learn more about what your family history may say about your risk for certain conditions by visiting the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services 'My Family Health Portrait.'

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