Is Getting Your Annual Physical Exam Worth It?

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Shorter Version

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“Health is not valued till sickness comes.”

~Thomas Fuller

How do you feel? Have you been experiencing aches and pains, fatigue, depression, anxiety, or other physical or mental ailments? Or, have you been feeling energetic, content, and virtually pain-free? Do you currently have health concerns you’d like to discuss with a doctor? If so, annual physical exam tests may be what you need to determine why you are feeling a certain way.

Why Do I need an Annual Physical Exam?

These tests aren’t just for people with health concerns. They are also used to determine how healthy you are. In other words, they provide you and your doctor with the status of your health so you can make informed decisions about your treatment.

How does it all work? Well, general health and wellness tests are typically performed during a general health and wellness exam. This exam, also called an annual physical exam, usually occurs once a year and entails more than just blood and urine tests. The exam is administered by your primary care provider (PCP) or internist. The goal of an annual physical is for your doctor to develop a treatment plan that will improve your health and prevent future health concerns like diabetes, high blood pressure, infertility, etc.

Thus, the ultimate aim of an annual physical exam is to lower your risk of lifelong mental and physical preventable health problems.

What Happens During an Annual Physical Exam?

An annual physical exam may include a wide range of blood tests, such as comprehensive panel of kidney function, blood cell, cholesterol levels, vitamin and mineral levels, oxygen saturation, lipid panel, STD infections, and adrenal gland function. It may also include a vital signs check, a prostate exam, or a pelvic exam or pap smear (depending on your age).

During this visit, you can tell your doctor about any symptoms you are experiencing or any health concerns you have. Unlike a doctor’s appointment that addresses illnesses, injuries, or conditions, health and wellness exams primarily focus on prevention. Thus, an annual physical exam is a health screening designed to ascertain your level of health and ensure that you receive the resources needed to improve or prolong your life.

Understand that the types of annual physical exams you get each year may change as you age. The good news is most, if not all annual physical exams, are covered in health insurance plans, so it is important to verify health and wellness coverage before you get the exam and tests.

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Even if you’re healthy, an annual physical exam is important

People get health screenings (tests) for a variety of reasons, such as to assess their overall health or to determine why they are feeling a certain way. Thus, general health and wellness tests provide you with a measure of how you are doing health-wise. Yet, some people have general health and wellness tests to follow up for a chronic health condition.

General health and wellness tests usually occur during annual wellness exams, but they can occur at any time. For instance, your doctor may order these tests if you present certain symptoms – to rule in or rule out certain conditions or injuries. Still, the main goal of an annual physical exam is to be preventative, when possible. In other words, the aim is to ward off future conditions, ailments, and injuries – to be proactive instead of reactive.

These tests help “catch” past, present, and future problems so you remain in as good of health as possible as you age.

An Annual Physical Exam Helps Prevent Future Health Problems

Understand that most of the time, annual wellness exams and tests are separate from other medical visits, such as for illnesses and injuries. And, even though general health and wellness tests are generally covered in most health insurance plans, it is important to find out what your specific plan pays. Why? Because your plan may cover the costs of some, but not all labs. So, it is important to determine what you will be expected to pay out-of-pocket, if anything, before you arrive at your appointment.

Also, most health insurance plans only pay for one exam (and the accompanying tests) per year, but health insurance plans vary. Be sure to check with the billing staff at your doctor’s office or a rep at your insurance company to make sure these tests are covered. These tests are used for a variety of reasons, such as diagnosis, prescription drug effects, follow-ups, annual child and adult physicals or checkups, female or male wellness exams, etc.

These health screenings (tests) largely depend on your age, family medical background, health history, health concerns and conditions, age, risk factors, and gender. Some of the tests ordered during an annual wellness exam include cholesterol, diabetes, STD, adrenal gland function, and/or osteoporosis.

Tests and Screenings at Annual Physical Exams

Your doctor may also order a comprehensive blood panel to check for diseases or future conditions that could affect your quality of life in the future. He or she may also check your blood pressure, and/or give you a pelvic exam or pap smear. And, although you are a young adult, if you have a history of breast or reproductive cancers or prostate cancer in your family, your doctor may order an early mammogram or prostate screenings and digital rectal exams to “catch” potential issues before they occur.

During this visit, your doctor may ask you about your physical activity and stress levels, diet, and drug and alcohol use (including how much you smoke). He or she may also inquire about your mental health. More specifically, he or she may ask if you’ve been anxious or depressed lately.

The goal of the questions, tests and exam is to help improve your health through lifestyle changes so you are in better condition once you hit your 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s, and so on. So, it is important that you are open and honest with your doctor.

It’s essential that you and your doctor work together to keep your health in tiptop shape.

Your Health Insurance Should Cover an Annual Physical Exam

Most health insurance plans allow for an annual wellness exam, however, some people choose to have them every few years. This is perfectly okay as long as you aren’t experiencing any major health concerns. Experts recommend that adults, ages 18 to 40, receive general health and wellness tests every 5 years. However, for adults with chronic conditions that require medications and follow-ups, this timeline may be inaccurate.

The good news is most young adults (under the age of 40) are fairly healthy and free of diseases, so general health and wellness tests every 5 years typically will not miss significant health problems. For healthy young adults, seeing a doctor with health concerns as they pop up is enough to determine the root cause of what is ailing them and to prescribe a treatment plan.

So, are general health and wellness tests worth it? Absolutely! In fact, a health and wellness exam and any accompanying tests are necessary for both males and females. This is true even if you feel in tip-top shape.

Actionable Steps

Here are 5 reasons you should get an annual physical exam, even if you’re healthy:


To monitor your health status

General health and wellness tests are important because they help monitor your health status. More specifically, these tests can detect changes in your blood levels, organs, cells, tissues, and bodily functions. The results of these tests say a lot about your mental and physical health. And, they can help your doctor determine if you need to make lifestyle changes to improve your health and well-being.


To identify risk factors & develop a treatment plan

General health and wellness tests help your doctor identify risk factors and recommend positive lifestyle changes. During an annual physical exam, your doctor will ask you questions about your lifestyle habits, mental and physical health, family medical history, and health status. Based on your answers, he or she may order certain tests to rule in or rule out certain conditions or injuries, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, osteoporosis, clogged arteries, chemical imbalance in the brain, etc.

This information can help your doctor develop a treatment plan to safeguard your health for the future. For instance, moderate exercise and a low-sodium and low-sugar healthy diet can help reduce symptoms and enhance your quality of life, if you have heart disease or high cholesterol.


Help you get specialist referrals

Your general health and wellness test results can help you get much-needed specialist
referrals. In other words, based on the results, your doctor may write you a referral or connect you with other experts, who can help you achieve your wellness goals.

For instance, if the results indicate that you have a platelet problem (blood-clotting issue), your PCP or internist may refer you to a hematologist (blood doctor). Or, if the test results indicate that you have elevated liver enzymes and you are an alcoholic, your PCP or internist may refer you to a drug and alcohol rehab program.


Detect gender-specific health issues

General health and wellness tests can pinpoint gender-specific health issues. In other words, there are wellness tests for women and men that look for specific markers – markers specific to a particular gender. For instance, some health and wellness tests can detect cervical cell changes in women or prostate cell changes in men.

Well-woman screenings may involve breast exams and breast cancer screenings, pap smears, a metabolic panel, and/or fertility and reproductive assessments. While well-man screenings may involve prostate exams and prostate cancer evaluations, hernia assessments, and/or testicular cancer screenings.

Generally, both women and men are screened for STDs. So, while some tests are gender-neutral, others are gender-specific with the goal of “catching” gender-specific health issues. But, understand that gender-specific health and wellness tests are dependent on your age, health status, family medical history, risk factors, and lifestyle habits.


Annual Physical Exams Help With Early detection

One of the best things about general health and wellness tests is they can alert your doctor that something may be wrong. And, guess what? Early detection can save a life. More specifically, health screenings can detect the presence of cancer, a blood condition, an autoimmune disorder, and/or injuries and diseases that could impact your longevity and quality of life.

These screenings don’t just apply to physical health concerns; they also include mental health and cognitive issues, such as memory loss, depression, and anxiety. Thus, early detection can lead to early treatment, which is needed to improve and protect your health and well-being.

About the Author

Dr. R. Y. Langham

Dr. R. Y. Langham

Ph.D. in Family Psychology

Ree has a Master’s in Marriage and Family Therapy (M.M.F.T.) and a Ph.D. in Family Psychology. She spent over ten years counseling families, couples, individuals, and children on adjustment issues such as blended families, same-sex couples, dysfunctional family relationships, relationship issues, etc. Now she writes for famous health organizations and is a published author.
Full Bio | LinkedIn

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