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The importance of scheduling your annual physical exam

GEHA | February 1, 2021

An annual physical exam can help avoid problems in the future.

Just as it's important to take children to the doctor when they aren't sick to receive scheduled well-child visits, it is crucial that adults receive regular checkups, even if they are feeling fine.

Arranging an annual physical exam can help avoid problems in the future, including early detection of high blood pressure, high blood sugar, high cholesterol levels or other conditions that may not have symptoms in the early stages. The physical exam also provides an opportunity to:

  • Screen for diseases
  • Asses the risk of future medical problems
  • Encourage a healthy lifestyle
  • Provide attainable goals for living healthier
  • Update vaccinations
  • Review all prescriptions and other medication in current use
  • Continue a relationship with a primary care provider

This last benefit shouldn't be overlooked. While you may see specialists once in a while, your primary care physician is the one who likely has known you the longest, in periods of both good health and bad. Patients are more likely to be honest and open with a doctor they have known over time, which makes talking about serious issues and receiving frank information easier.

Likewise, by continuing this relationship with your primary care physician, the office will have a more comprehensive record of the visits, immunizations and tests you've had. With this information, clinicians can remind you when it is time for a shot or screening.

At your physical exam, the doctor will look into your eyes, nose and throat and examine skin color, lesions and note any hygiene issues. The doctor will touch parts of your body to feel for lumps and check organ size and shape. The doctor will also determine organ location, identify blockages and spot internal problems by examining the abdomen. Finally, the doctor will listen to your heart, lungs and bowels with a stethoscope. Other tests may occur based on your medical history or something revealed during the exam. Blood and urine sample tests are also frequently ordered during the physical exam. In some cases, an X-ray, MRI or EKG study may be requested.

Your physical exam is often the only way you or your doctor may become aware of a problem. Feel free to bring a list of questions or concerns you'd like to discuss. Remember, you and your doctor are part of a team.

GEHA can help you find a provider near you and give tips for finding the right primary care physician.

“Physical exam frequency.”, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 22 December, 2020.
“Why your annual check-up is still important to your health.”, Harvard Medical School, 17 July, 2015. (subscription required)
“What is a physical exam and what can you expect?”, Dignity Health, 2 May, 2017.