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What to expect during a physical exam

By Dr. Lan Ly, family medicine physician


Annual physicals with your primary care provider are a way to assess your overall health and identify any potential health concerns through preventive screenings.


During a physical exam, you can expect to have your vitals checked, complete preventive screenings that are appropriate for your age, review immunization records, and review or order lab work.


Why is an annual physical exam important?

While your annual physical can shed light on risk factors for cancer and chronic diseases, it also serves as an opportunity for you to establish and then deepen your relationship with your primary care provider. There are only a few “physical” components to the exam, which allows you to have a thorough conversation with your provider about your physical, mental, emotional, social and environmental health.


Preventive healthcare, including your annual physical, is one of the most cost effective ways of managing your health.

According to the CDC, chronic diseases account for 75% of the nation’s health spending but are largely preventable through appropriate screenings and close consultation with your healthcare providers.


What kind of labs or preventative services are done at the annual physical?

Depending your age and risk factor, there may be certain labs and imaging that are recommended based on the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force (USPSTF).


“Created in 1984, the USPSTF is an independent group of national experts in prevention and evidence-based medicine that works to improve the health of all Americans by making evidence-based recommendations about clinical preventive services such as screenings, counseling services, or preventive medications.”


Of course, there are different guidelines with various recommendations. Your doctor may discuss the recommendations of these guidelines and allow you to help pick one to follow.


In addition, your physical is used to help you stay updated on your immunization status. Also based on your age and risk factors, there are specific recommendations for immunizations based on CDC guidelines.


Why would I need a follow-up from my physical exam?

If your lab work, vitals, physical exam or one of the other preventive screenings identifies an abnormality, your primary care provider may want to see you for a follow-up appointment.

A follow-up may be necessary to do a more thorough work-up based on those test results or to discuss management of a new or ongoing medical condition.

Should I wait to tell my doctor about my medical concerns at my physical?

The short answer — no.


If you have a medical concern pop up during the year, don’t wait until your physical to bring it up with your physician. Schedule an appointment to talk about it separately so your doctor can give the concern the time and attention it needs.


This also allows your doctor to focus on your overall health at your physical exam.

If you have questions about your annual physical or need to schedule it, contact your primary care provider.


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