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Published on October 21, 2022

yearly checkup illustration

What Happens at an Annual Physical Exam?

Just as your birthday comes around once a year, your yearly checkup with your doctor should happen annually, too. This is especially necessary if you want to experience the best possible health for years to come.

“No matter what your age or gender, a yearly checkup is beneficial, and most insurance plans cover the cost,” said Kevin Post, DO, Chief Medical Officer of Avera Medical Group. “But before you schedule yours, remember: you are the most important member of the health care team. Patients who adopt this mindset and who are engaged along with their care team can have better results and better health.”

Connect with Your Family Doctor

First and foremost, a dedicated primary care provider will know your personal and family medical history. Whether they are a family practitioner, OB-GYN, pediatrician or internal medicine specialist, it’s worth it (and necessary) to see a provider for multiple reasons.

During a physical exam, your doctor will collect basic health information such as weight, height and vital signs, including blood pressure, heart rate and temperature. “This helps us watch for trends over time, and also investigate vitals that are outside of normal range,” Post said.

Your doctor may assess the following:

  • Heartbeat and breathing sounds via stethoscope
  • Head and neck exam, including tonsils, lymph nodes and thyroid
  • Abdominal exam to check for any tenderness and liver size
  • Muscle strength, reflexes and balance
  • Lab tests, such as a complete blood count (CBC), blood chemistry panel and urinalysis
  • Any recommended cancer screenings
  • Immunizations

Perks of a Well-Being Program

Some health insurance policies offer well-being programs that include health screenings, exams and resources that can augment your efforts with your provider. Review your policy and take advantage of the ones that fit your goals. Most insurers offer guidance on how these preventive programs work.

Types of Screenings at an Annual Checkup

Your doctor will discuss basic recommended health screenings with you. For women, a yearly checkup may include a clinical breast exam, pelvic exam and recommended screenings (mammograms, Pap tests). For men, this appointment might include a testicular exam, prostate exam and a PSA blood test.

Whatever your gender, your doctor may recommend other screenings, such as:

  • Blood cholesterol
  • Blood sugar level
  • Colonoscopy
  • Behavioral health conditions

Did you know? A colonoscopy screening checks for colorectal polyps or signs of cancer. If you’re at least 45 years old, this test is recommended every 10 years, or more often if you have a family history of polyps or colorectal cancer.

How to Prepare for my Yearly Checkup

Be ready to bring up any questions or concerns you have about ongoing health. Maybe you would like to lose weight, quit smoking or change eating habits. Your annual appointment is a great time to bring up your health goals.

“Your primary care practitioner can recommend resources that can help start those all-important preventive steps, like tobacco cessation, good diet and more exercise,” Post said.

Do the following to make the most out of your physical exam:

  • List out or bring all your medications (prescriptions, over-the-counter drugs, supplements).
  • Write down your health questions so you don’t forget.
  • Note any concerns weighing on your mind.

“People often feel a bit anxious about their yearly checkup, but remember: you’re the focus of it. We’re just here to help you experience better health,” Post said.

Be sure to schedule and talk to your primary care provider once a year. Don’t currently have a dedicated family doctor? That’s OK. To start, find a doctor near you and schedule your appointment.

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Avera is a health ministry rooted in the Gospel. Our mission is to make a positive impact in the lives and health of persons and communities by providing quality services guided by Christian values.

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