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Should You Get an Annual Physical?

By Bryan Roth Updated September 09, 2019
Your face-to-face wellness visit helps you connect with your Duke doctor, establish trust, and share your health care preferences before serious illness hits.

Michael Fedewa, Jr., DO, recommends an annual physical exam as a way to build trust with providers while maintaining a health baseline.

Even if you feel perfectly healthy, there’s still a reason to visit with your primary care doctor at least once a year.

“When we meet for annual physicals, it creates a health baseline and strengthens the patient-physician relationship, which is important to maximize your wellness,” said Michael Fedewa, Jr., DO, a board-certified family physician at Duke Primary Care Holly Springs Family Medicine. “If we know you when you’re well, we’re going to be ready to provide the best care when you’re sick, and we may be able to prevent some illness altogether.”

Finding time to update your doctor and understanding your overall wellness can be beneficial for people of all ages. Dr. Fedewa answers some common questions about why you should schedule your annual visit.

Should I Get an Annual Physical Exam?

Yes -- and for a variety of reasons. Your face-to-face wellness visit helps you connect with your Duke doctor, establish trust, and share your health care preferences before serious illness hits. It’s also an opportunity to discuss important health issues like disease screening and lifestyle changes tailored to you. The best way for you to receive comprehensive, personal care is for your doctor to know you at all levels of health.

Is My Physical Covered by Insurance?

It depends on your insurance. Most plans consider an annual physical a covered service, but how much you’ll pay out of pocked depends on your specific plan. Contact your insurance company to find out what’s covered, which providers are in your network, and how much you’ll be responsible to pay. Duke maintains a full list of insurance plans accepted at Duke Health locations.

The annual exam is at its highest value when doctors can devote time to thoroughly discussing your medical history, chronic issues, and recommendations for lifestyle changes. Visits for other concerns should be scheduled with your doctor. If you have a new health concern, your doctor may suggest scheduling a follow-up visit in order to focus on diagnosing and treating that condition.

What Does an Annual Physical Include?

Duke doctors approach your annual physical as an annual wellness visit. Your doctor will personalize the appointment based on your medical history and guidelines for your age group. Along with your vital signs and other observations from a physical exam, this information helps your doctor determine whether you are at high- or low-risk for certain illnesses and what tests may be appropriate for you.

Some of the regular tests you may receive during a visit include:

  • Pap smears are performed every three-to-five years.
  • EKG screenings are not suggested for people at low risk for heart disease.
  • Routine urine tests are only for certain conditions or symptoms.

What to Expect

At your annual check-up, your doctor will:

  • Check your vital signs. Recording your temperature, blood pressure, heart rate, and respiration rate create a baseline for your overall wellness.
  • Perform a physical exam. Visual inspection of your eyes, ears, and throat will help your doctor spot any potential issues. Lightly touching areas like your abdomen and back will accomplish this as well.
  • Update your vaccines. Depending on your age, you may need a new vaccine or a booster shot.
  • Ensure you get screenings you need. Are you due for a blood test, colonoscopy or bone density screening? Your physician will let you know and can coordinate tests.
  • Discuss new prevention and treatment recommendations. How you maintain your health changes over time. A yearly physical brings your care up-to-date.
  • Provide guidance on reducing your risk for disease. Your doctor can provide information and motivation to stop smoking, lose unhealthy pounds, or manage risk factors like high blood pressure.
  • Manage your medications. Your doctor will make sure your prescriptions, over-the-counter drugs, and supplements don’t interact with each other. They can also help you manage potential side effects.

Annual physical exams will allow your doctor to accurately update your electronic medical record, which you can track with your MyChart account.

How to Prepare for Your Visit

One advantage of a Duke MyChart account is having information sent directly to you about how to make the most out of your appointment. Along with reminders about the day, time, and location, you may find tips about what to bring with you and how your insurance plan covers the visit. When meeting with your provider, be honest about your current health levels, including smoking and/or drinking. It helps for accurate counseling and recommendations.

People of All Ages Benefit in Different Ways

Wellness visits are key to staying healthy, from the vaccines received as a child through the guidance of complex teen visits, and into family planning and STD screening for adults. Annual physical exams also provide invaluable mental health and substance abuse counseling for all ages and promote longevity and health through cancer screening and heart disease risk reduction after age 50.

Michael Fedewa, Jr., DO, is an osteopathic physician at Duke.

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