But, that was the old physical exam. Researchers found that yearly physicals — or exams of people when they are well — did not add years to your life or reduce illnesses. So, the traditional physical got a makeover. And recommendations for a new physical were made.
The new physical
The new physical checkup – or “health maintenance exam” – is not one-size-fits-all. The new checkup is tailored to your individual health needs and focuses on preventing future health problems. Your doctor may still want to see you once a year, or he or she may tell you to come back in three years. The frequency of your checkups will be based on your:
- Individual risks
- Family history
During these visits your doctor will:
- Perform an exam
- Identify your personal risk factors for disease
- Recommend health screenings
- Give advice on how to reduce your risk of illness
- Suggest any needed immunizations
Benefits of regular checkups
It’s important to have checkups as often as your doctor suggests, even if you feel fine.
Many serious health problems do not have symptoms, and are only found during an exam by your doctor. For example, high blood pressure – which leads to heart attack and stroke – is known as a “silent killer” because most people don’t have symptoms. Your doctor will measure your blood pressure at each visit.
Other benefits of regular checkups include:
1) They help you build a relationship with your doctor. You may be more likely to seek medical care when you’re sick if you have a doctor you know well. Some people feel uncomfortable if they have to seek care from a “stranger.”
2) It’s time spent just on preventive health care. If you only see your doctor when you’re sick, he or she may not have time to give preventive care during that visit, too. This is because doctors are often strapped for time, and must focus on helping you get better if you are sick.
3) People who see their doctor regularly are more likely to take steps to improve or maintain their health.
Importance of health screenings
Screening tests are one of the key pieces of the preventive health puzzle. They can often help detect disease before it advances further and causes damage. And, some diseases can even be prevented if certain risk factors are found during the screening.
The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPTF) sets guidelines for screening tests for adults and children. They outline which tests you should get and how often you should get them. Your doctor will tell you which screenings you need and when – based on your individual risk factors. For example, the USPTF recommends that people start to have screening for colon cancer starting at age 50. But if you have risk factors for colon cancer, such as a history of inflammatory bowel disease, your doctor may suggest starting screening earlier.
Check with your doctor to find out what health screenings you need.
- Laine C. The annual physical examination: needless ritual or necessary routine? Annals of Internal Medicine. 2002;136(9):701-703. Accessed: 09/03/2009
- Women’s Health Information Network. General screenings and immunizations for women. Accessed: 09/03/2009
- Agency for Healthcare Quality and Research. Men: stay healthy at any age. Accessed: 09/03/2009
- Palo Alto Medical Foundation. Health maintenance evaluation – replacing the “annual physical.” Accessed: 09/03/2009
- Oboler SK, Prochazka AV, Gonzales R, Xu S, Anderson RJ. Public expectations and attitudes for annual physical examinations Accessed: 09/03/2009
- Chacko KM, Anderson RJ. The annual physical examination: important or time to abandon? American Journal of Medicine. 2007;120(7):581-583. Accessed: 09/03/2009