TAKING ONE hour out of every 8,760 hours for health peace of mind should be "routine," doctors say. An annual health check-up and physical examination is generally covered by insurances and Medicare, but the value of detecting a problem in its early stages could be life saving.
The procedures for this visit are, as described, routine. The doctor usually begins with standard questions about family history of illnesses such as diabetes or heart conditions and progresses to personal health issues like tobacco use and alcohol consumption. Some of the questions may seem personal, for instance those regarding sexual activity, but doctors need to have the "whole picture" of a patient's health in case something out of the ordinary does come up. All information given to the doctor is confidential.
He listens to the patient's heart and lungs, takes a pulse and checks blood pressure. As mundane as it sounds, this is an important part of the exam. Dr. Shaun Roe, of Morristown Family Practice Center and Barnesville Hospital, says listening to the body gives doctors "a lot of information." For instance, an erratic heartbeat could be a sign of atrial fibrillation which weakens the heart. This condition in particular is treatable, sometimes with medication, but it does need to be addressed.
Doctors also check immunization records and can update any flu, pneumonia, tetanus or hepatitis shots if necessary. They also usually perform an overall skin check of moles, freckles and other marks. Early detection of skin cancers is very important for treatment, and the incidence of the disease is on the rise.
Having a doctor visually scan the body for unusual moles or marks at least once a year can significantly reduce one's risk for developing skin cancer.
As far as tests, the doctor may order some standard blood work for detection or monitoring of diabetes, vitamin deficiencies, anemia, liver disease and cholesterol levels. Based on age, gender and personal or family medical history, the doctor may order a mammogram, PAP smear, prostate screening, bone density screening or colonoscopy.
Dr. Roe notes that for most people a yearly check-up is adequate. However, if the results yield a medical condition that needs treatment, the patient should expect more frequent visits. Depending on the illness, the doctor may want to schedule visits every six months or more often. Once the patient's health is stabilized or the issue is resolved, it is possible to return to an annual check-up.
How can the patient prepare for a yearly exam? First, write down and bring updated information on family medical history that includes your grandparents, parents, siblings, children and self with any past or present health issues and surgeries, even those like tonsillectomies or Cesarean sections.
Second, bring a list of or actual bottles of current medications. Call the doctor's office to see if they will require fasting for any blood work or tests they might need. Also ask if the doctor will be able to perform tests like the PAP smear, which would save another doctor visit.
Finally, this is an opportunity to ask the doctor questions about medications, symptoms or general health. Write them down and prioritize them so those that are most important are answered. Preparations like this will help the doctor move through the exam more efficiently and help him address any patient concerns face to face.
Valenti can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.