If you generally feel healthy, why should you see your doctor for an annual physical exam?
For one, checking in with your primary care physician can confirm that you have no underlying health risks that need attention. Or, an exam may lead to an early-stage diagnosis of some kind, which means you could receive treatment sooner with better outcomes.
For children and adults in all stages of age and wellness, an annual in-person exam or virtual visit with your doctor can empower you to be proactive about your health and lifestyle choices.
What happens during a physical exam?
During a typical in-person physical exam, your doctor will measure your temperature, weight, blood pressure, lung function, and heartbeat. You’ll discuss any medications you’re taking and how well they are working for you.
You may be asked to give blood and urine samples. Doing this will help your doctor evaluate your blood sugar, cholesterol, blood cells, kidney and liver function, and various proteins and other biomarkers. These tests may reveal an underlying infection, disease, or condition that can be adequately managed or prevented from developing with a proper diagnosis and treatment.
Even during the coronavirus pandemic, it’s safe to visit your doctor. “The University of Miami Health System has taken every precaution to ensure that patients are protected from catching COVID-19,” says E. Robert Schwartz, M.D., a family medicine physician with UHealth. “Everyone has their temperature checked before they enter the buildings and must answer a series of questions that help determine whether or not they can be safely seen within our medical complex.” Healthcare facilities across the U.S. are maintaining social distancing and sanitizing protocols and are isolating patients who test positive for or show symptoms of the virus.
If you’re unable to see your doctor in person, ask for a telehealth consultation. Over video chat or a phone call, you can speak with your doctor at length and in private. With live video consultations and photos, your doctor can examine any visible signs of infection, injury, or disease. If you complete your lab work ahead of time, your doctor will have a chance to review your test results and discuss them with you during your remote exam.
Things to discuss with your doctor
An annual physical exam or wellness visit is the perfect time to tackle any health concerns in the back of your mind.
“Discussing a family history of diabetes, cancer, or genetic disorders can make an early diagnosis possible,” Dr. Schwartz says. “Simple tests such as a urinalysis or a hemoglobin A1C to screen for diabetes, for example, are effective screening tools that can help you stay healthy before a disease even makes itself known.”
If you are managing a medical condition or receiving professional treatment, discuss your progress and any concerns with your doctor. If side effects are a problem, your doctor may adjust your pharmaceutical dosage, timing, or drug formulation. He or she may recommend more exercise or nutritional changes to support your disease maintenance or recovery.
Take advantage of this time to discuss making meaningful lifestyle changes.
With your doctor’s guidance and support, you can successfully and safely:
- quit smoking or abusing drugs
- start or advance your exercise program
- change your diet
Be honest with your doctor if you’re experiencing anxiety, depression, or trouble sleeping. Professional treatments and self-care approaches can be effective. If you feel unsafe at home or work, trust your primary care physician to help you make changes to protect yourself.
If you need additional testing, treatment, or counseling, your primary care physician can refer you to an appropriate specialist.
Do you need to get a check-up every year?
“If you have been well and do not have a preexisting illness, you can wait for another six to nine months for your regular wellness check-up at your primary care physician’s office,” Dr. Schwartz says.
But, if you are experiencing pain, insomnia, fatigue, or any other bothersome changes to how you feel or think — make that appointment today.
Dana Kantrowitz is a contributing writer for UMiami Health News.
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