HealthFit’s approach to physical exams and wellness
Annual physical exams are important to establish a baseline of health in order to detect unhealthy trends before they become problematic. Regular physical exams are essential to monitor wellness – and crucial for those diagnosed with a chronic health condition.
The Center for Disease Control states that 7 out of every 10 deaths are caused by a chronic health condition, which may often go untreated or undetected until it’s a much more complicated condition. Physical exams that include in-depth discussions are a primary way HealthFit can help ensure our patients are not part of that statistic.
HealthFit’s primary care providers, which include doctors, physician assistants and nurse practitioners, offer physical exams and wellness services, including men’s annual exams, women’s annual exams with Pap smear if needed, sports physicals, DOT physicals, vaccinations and family planning services including conception consultation and prescribing birth control.
What are physical exams?
Regular physical exams are crucial to maintaining overall health and wellness. The goal of this medical visit is to make sure a patient is healthy and to assess risk factors for health complications such as obesity, hypertension, hyperlipidemia and others.
Some healthcare insurance – including all plans covering older patients on Medicare – distinguish between a physical exam and a wellness exam, or annual wellness visit. A wellness exam is generally a meeting in which health history, issues and concerns are reviewed. The patient’s height, weight and blood pressure are taken and health risk factors are assessed. This is not a “hands-on” exam. A physical exam involves a more traditional exam.
Elements of a HealthFit physical exam
Although physical examinations vary from patient to patient based upon health history, age and the reason for the appointment, there are a few basic components included in every exam.
A physical typically begins by collecting a patient’s vital signs (described below). A medical assistant will ask the patient questions about his or her health history and discuss any particular symptoms being experienced. The physical usually includes a check of the heart, lungs, abdomen, ears, nose and throat.
During a physical exam the doctor, nurse practitioner or physician assistant will check the following.
- Personal and family health history. During the first visit with a new patient, the provider will ask questions to gain a better understanding of the patient’s health history. This conversation may include questions about past injuries, current health conditions and family history of diabetes, cancer, hypertension, etc. According to the National Institutes of Health, a detailed health history can help provide an accurate diagnosis in about 75 percent of patients.
- Vital signs. We check the patient’s blood pressure to monitor for hypertention (high blood pressure). The provider checks the patient’s respiration rate and body temperature. We evaluate the patient’s heart rate, which if too high may cause the provider to order some additional tests to check for a healthy heart. And by listening to a patient’s heart, a provider can detect an irregular heartbeat, a heart murmur or other symptoms that can affect heart health.
- Physical appearance and mental aptitude. A provider can gather a lot of information about a person’s general health and wellness with a watchful eye and a bit of conversation. How is the patient’s memory and mental quickness? Can the patient easily stand and walk? Does the patient’s skin look healthy?
Not all of these tests will be performed during every annual physical exam. A patient will likely require very different tests for an annual physical than for a sports physical.
Below are specific types of physical exams and wellness services we offer at HealthFit and the testing patients can expect to have done during their visit.
Other types of physical exams and wellness services
- Men’s annual exam – hernia exam and blood work to test blood glucose levels, thyroid, cholesteral and electrolyte evaluations. If a patient has a concern about a sexually transmitted disease, the provider will check for that. Depending on age and medications the patient may be taking, other things will be checked such as a prostate check via digital rectal exam and a testicular exam.
- Women’s annual exam – includes skin evaluation, blood work and a Pap smear. Many women may go to their OB/GYN for a Pap screening, but we include that as part of our yearly exams for our female patients who are identified as candidates for yearly Pap tests.
- Sports physicals – a physical exam that determines that a patient is in good enough health to participate in a sport. This includes testing to assess an adolescent’s or teen’s health as it relates to physical activity, particularly team participation. The patient should tell the provider of any diseases or injuries that could make it unsafe to participate in sports.
- DOT physicals – federal law requires drivers of commercial motor vehicles (CMVs) receive a Department of Transportation (DOT) physical exam at least every 24 months. These physicals are designed to detect physical, mental and emotional issues that can impact the CMV driver’s ability to safely spend long hours on the road.
- Vaccinations – for both childhood diseases and some vaccines necessary for traveling abroad.
- Family planning – this appointment will check the overall health and reproductive health of the woman. If the couple has had trouble conceiving, we may refer the woman to a gynecologist. The provider can discuss protocol for ceasing birth control medication. We can also prescribe birth control and discuss contraception methods for those patients seeking not to become pregnant.
What should you bring to your first exam or wellness service?
- Patients should create a list of health and wellness concerns and questions. Does the patient want to lose weight? Become a vegetarian? Start a rigorous physical training program for a marathon or triathlon? Patients should feel comfortable talking to their HealthFit family provider about the risks, benefits and any health concerns about their activities. We may not be able to address every concern in this visit, but can schedule a follow-up visit if necessary.
- They should bring shot records and results of screening tests such as mammograms and colonoscopies.
- Patients should bring to the visit current medications, both prescribed and over the counter, as well as vitamins and supplements they may be taking.
- Patients should make sure we have their updated medical records prior to their appointment, though these can often be difficult to obtain before a first visit to HealthFit.
- Patients should discuss their family medical history with their provider. Understanding certain health conditions one may have via family can help to prevent and manage health risks.
- Patients should review their insurance health plan to understand their coverage.
Annual physical exams help our family medicine providers get to know each individual patient’s health norms in order to detect unhealthy trends before they become a risk. These regular visits also help a patient build a good rapport and a positive relationship with his or her provider.