Physicals are fundamental to maintaining optimum health. As a patient, it’s your responsibility not only to schedule your annual visit, but to come prepared to discuss your health concerns.
A typical exam lasts approximately 30 minutes, so make the most of that time. Dr. Sabrina Hofmeister, family physician at the Medical College of Wisconsin, recommends that patients bring a list of any physical and mental health questions, the medications they are taking and knowledge of their family history.
The purpose of this annual visit is to help your doctor to track and manage problems in the early stages. The type of specific services offered in a physical depend on age, gender and lifestyle choices. The basics include assessing high blood pressure risk, administering vaccines such as tetanus, measles and hepatitis, and cancer screening.
Another piece of advice: get comfortable talking about the uncomfortable. “A lot of diseases and conditions have very vague symptoms, and patients don’t always know what they mean,” Hofmeister says. “If there’s anything unusual that you’re experiencing, it’s worthwhile to bring up to your doctor.” If feelings of embarrassment or discomfort arise, acknowledge them. “If they’re a good provider, they’ll pause, speak with you directly, ask clarifying questions and be a good listener,” says Dr. Allison Kos, chief medical officer at Progressive Community Health Centers. “We all deserve that.”
Doctors typically use this opportunity to evaluate depression along with other mental health elements that might need support. Kos says depression screenings are short. Commonly, these conversations start out as a few simple questions. Do you feel down, blue, depressed? Have you lost interest or pleasure in normal activities? “It really is a high level and a quick check to see if we can go down this pathway, and see if there are any other issues,” Kos says.