Regular health exams and screening tests can help identify problems before they start or in early stages, when chances for treatment and/or cure are better. This type of medical appointment goes by several names, including annual checkup, annual physical examination, routine physical examination, or just physical. The type of exam, as well as the need for various screening tests, depends on age, health and family history, and certain lifestyle choices (such as level of physical activity and whether you smoke).
What does a physical examination include?
- Updated health history – This is usually done by the patient before you see a healthcare provider, otherwise known as “paperwork” or filling out forms! There will be questions about changes in your health, as well as current medications, allergies, supplements, and recent surgeries.
- Vital sign checks – Includes some or all of height, weight, blood pressure, heart and respiratory rate, and temperature.
- Visual exam – A sort of “inspection” of your appearance for signs of potential conditions which could indicate underlying health issues, including head, eyes, chest, abdomen, musculoskeletal system (hands, wrists, ankles), and nervous system function (speaking and walking).
- Physical exam – Continuation of the exam with use of specialized tools to examine eyes, ears, nose, and throat. Other aspects include listening to the heart and lungs, examination of the skin, hair, and nails, testing of motor function and reflexes, and possible examination of other physical organs.
- Laboratory tests – To complete the exam, blood may be drawn for a variety of tests.
Where should I go to get a physical?
A physical is done by your primary healthcare provider (PCP). The PCP may be a physician (MD or DO), nurse practitioner (NP), or physician assistant (PA). Any PCP will perform essentially the same components of the exam, so you can go to a clinic, doctor’s office, or an urgent care center like Integrity Urgent Care.
How do I prepare for my physical?
First, make an appointment with the PCP of your choice. Choose your regular provider if you have one or check with your insurance company for a list of providers. If you know you need a physical (such as for a job, sports activity, or some type of camp), schedule with plenty of time as many PCPs do routine physicals at certain times in order to allow time for patients who are sick and need to be seen right away.
A few simple things will help you to get the most from the physical and the time you have with your PCP. Gather the following information and take it with you to the appointment:
- List of your current medications, including over-the-counter meds and any herbal supplements.
- List of any symptoms or pain you currently are experiencing.
- Medical and surgical history (only updates since your last physical are necessary if your PCP already has your complete medical records).
- Names of any other doctors you may have seen recently (such as specialists) and their contact information.
- List of any additional questions you would like to ask. The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) says that many people ask more questions of a waiter before ordering in a restaurant than they do of their PCP!
One the day of the appointment, try to dress comfortably in clothing that is easily removed for the exam. Avoid excess jewelry and makeup which may interfere with a full exam.
Listen carefully to what your doctor says and take notes. “Medical studies indicate most people suffer a 68% hearing loss when naked,” captioned a 2005 ad from the United Health Foundation which encouraged patients to tell their doctors everything and ask questions. And up to 80% of patients forget what a doctor told them as soon as they leave the office! Consider asking a family member to go with you to the appointment if possible for a second set of ears.
How often should I get a physical?
“A physical examination is recommended at least once a year, especially in people over the age of 50.” For newborns and infants, well-child checks are recommended several times during the first two years of life and include regular immunizations. If you have ongoing or chronic conditions, your PCP may recommend more frequent physicals to monitor these conditions. Physicals are also a great time to build a relationship with you PCP so that when you do become sick, you already know your PCP and they know something about you as well.
What screening tests might be performed with the physical?
Additional screening tests may be performed or ordered as follow-up appointments, depending on your gender and/or age for specific diseases or types of cancer. Your PCP will also discuss any recommended immunizations.
- For women, these include mammogram, breast exam, pap smear, pelvic exam, cholesterol level, and bone density screen.
- For men, these include cholesterol level, prostate cancer screening, testicular exam, and abdominal aortic aneurism screening.
Integrity Urgent Care is your “go-to” for physicals. Although appointments are not necessary at any of our locations, it’s a good idea to call to make an appointment for a physical. We can do physicals for most needs, including DOT. Call or contact us today!
Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. Questions to ask your doctor. US Department of Health & Human Services. Last reviewed Sep 2018 [accessed 1 Jun 2019]. https://www.ahrq.gov/patients-consumers/patient-involvement/ask-your-doctor/index.html. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Regular check-ups are important. CDC Office of Women’s Health. Last reviewed 2 Aug 2017 [accessed 1 Jun 2019]. https://www.cdc.gov/family/checkup/. Holland K, Jewell T. Getting a physical examination. Healthline.com. Reviewed 2 May 2017 [accessed 1 Jun 2019]. https://www.healthline.com/health/getting-physical-examination. Krans W, Wu B. Physical examination. Healthline.com. Reviewed 27 Jun 2017 [accessed 1 Jun 2019]. https://www.healthline.com/health/physical-examination. Wolvin A. The medical patient as listener: expanding the health literacy model. www.listen.org. 2005. https://www.listen.org/Resources/Documents/medicalpatientaslistener.pdf