Check Ups

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The term “routine checkup” refers to a visit to a primary care physician for the purpose of maintaining wellness. They are centered around preventing illness rather than treating an active symptom or already diagnosed illness or disease. This type of visit can also be referred to as a wellness visit, preventive visit, health evaluation, or general medical examination. Although referred to as “physicals” or “annuals,” these visits do not need to include a full physical examination and do not need to happen yearly. However, as many health insurance companies now offer financial incentives to both patients and physicians for a well visit once a year, many people now see their doctors for checkups on an annual basis.

A patient should expect a routine checkup to include at least:

  • Checking blood pressure, heart rate, height and weight
  • Discussing age-appropriate cancer screening tests (such as colonoscopy, mammography, and Pap smear)
  • Discussing other screening tests (i.e., sexually transmitted diseases, osteoporosis, and Hepatitis C)
  • Drawing blood for tests that are age- and medical history-appropriate (i.e., cholesterol, glucose, hemoglobin A1c)
  • Administering various immunizations
  • Screening for depression
  • Additional assessments for older individuals such as fall risk, hearing and memory loss, and advance directives

Chronic illnesses and new symptoms (i.e., pain or injury) are not covered by a checkup. These visits are referred to as acute visits, evaluation and management visits, or sick visits. For patients with chronic illnesses who are also due for a checkup, these items may be addressed at the same doctor visit, but the medical insurance may be billed separately for them. Physical examination is not always required for a checkup on an otherwise healthy individual who does not have specific symptoms. Today, some checkups are done via telehealth where the doctor may order screenings, tests, or immunizations which the patient can schedule at a later date.

A study published in 2021 showed that checkups were associated with increased cancer screenings (such as for colon and cervical cancer) and increased detection of chronic diseases (such as high blood pressure and diabetes). Checkups may promote a healthier diet, more regular exercise, and may improve patients’ self-rated health. Checkups appear to improve control of risk factors for cardiovascular disease such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol, however so far, they have not been shown to decrease death rates or decrease cardiovascular events such as heart attack and stroke. I do believe, however, that over time routine checkups will be shown to improve death rates and the rates of serious adverse events. For people over 65 years or older who have chronic illness or who take long-term medications, routine visits are important. People who are younger and have no symptoms should speak to their doctor about setting a schedule to maintain regular checkups.

For more information go to Harvard Health at:

www.health.harvard.edu/blog/ready-for-your-routine-medical-checkup-202107282555 

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By Peter Galvin, MG

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