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Annual Physical

Risks, Costs, Expectations and Why to Get One

Key Points

  • An annual physical exam is a preventative measure to ensure personal health and wellness, with benefits including insurance coverage, work requirements, and fostering doctor-patient relationships.
  • The risks of annual physicals are minimal, with the possibility of false positives and exposure to contagious illnesses at the doctor's office being the main concerns.
  • During a physical, the doctor will ask about lifestyle behaviors, family medical history, vaccination status, and personal health concerns, and may conduct screenings for cholesterol or diabetes.
  • There are various types of physical exams, such as well woman exams, pediatric physicals, school physicals, sports physicals, employment physicals, and DOT exams.
  • It's crucial to discuss with your doctor about vaccines, potential health risks, weight concerns, and steps to improve health during your physical.

What is an Annual Physical?

If you want to ensure your personal wellness and health each year, one of the best ways to do so is by getting a physical exam. Why wait until your unexpectedly sick before seeing a doctor? Getting a physical exam is an important proactive and preventative step that can help your provider spot any medical problems at an early stage or simply reassure you that you are in good condition.

Top 5 Reasons You Need an Annual Physical

1. Preventative Care

You should get an annual physical whether you feel healthy, a bit under the weather, or actually sick.[1] Your doctor can tell whether you’re likely to experience a health problem in the near future by giving you a few routine tests and checking you for certain signs and symptoms. It’s better to know something has a potential of happening or to be aware of an issue that has already happened than to let it fester and worsen over time. Preventative visits can screen you for anything from diseases like diabetes to mental illnesses such as depression.

2. Insurance

Another reason to take advantage of your annual physical is that most insurance plans cover them.[2] Why not get a doctor’s visit, ask questions that are important to you, and receive more knowledge about your current medical state — all for free?

3. Work Physicals

Many people have to get annual physicals just to be able to get a job or to do the jobs they currently have — especially if they drive, operate heavy machinery, or take care of other people for a living.[3] If you work at one of these jobs, chances are you need a complete annual physical.

4. Encourage Health

People who get annual physicals contemplate their personal health each time they go into the doctor’s office. Even if they feel fine, they’re encouraged to think about their health and whether they have any health problems.

In addition, going to see the doctor reminds you to focus on healthy living habits.[4] It’s easier to remind yourself to eat right, exercise, and take care of yourself if you see your doctor regularly.

5. Doctor-Patient Relationships

People who see their doctors at least once a year get to know their physicians and build strong relationships with them.[4] They learn to trust their doctors, which can come in handy when a real issue occurs.

Understanding Your Annual Physical

Not all doctors believe in annual physicals.[5] Others feel it is essential to their practices. Not everyone is required to have an annual physical by their job or their insurance plan; in most cases, it’s an option available to a patient free of charge. As such, many people are wise to take advantage of it, as it is a time to ask questions, get to know your doctor, and work on preventing any avoidable issues.

Risks of an Annual Physical

There are almost no risks associated with an annual physical. However, like every medical procedure, some issues can occur.

1. False Positives

False positives sometimes come back from tests or screenings given to healthy individuals during their annual physicals. This can be worrying, at the least. However, it is a potential side effect of taking these tests. In the long run, it’s better than being unaware of a serious problem or health issue.

2. Catching Something

Sometimes, just going to the doctor’s office can cause you to catch a cold or something else contagious from someone who was in the office at the same time. Doctors do their best to keep their exam rooms sterile, but contracting a sickness is another potential risk of going to see the doctor.

What to Expect From Your Annual Physical

Although they vary based on their purpose and the provider giving the exam, they will typically start out with a few general questions about your medical history. The medical provider will ask you about your lifestyle behaviors (smoking, alcohol use, sexual health, diet, and exercise), as well as your family medical history and vaccination status. This is also your chance to bring up any personal health concerns you’ve been having. Additionally, your examiner will also check your vital signs, which will include blood pressure, heart rate, respiration rate, and temperature, as well as conduct a cholesterol screening or diabetes screening. In addition, your doctor may also include an examination of your:

  • Head and neck
  • Lungs
  • Heart
  • Abdomen
  • Nails and skin
  • Reflexes, balance, and muscle strength

If a potential medical problem is detected, or if your examiner merely wants to be more thorough, you may also require lab tests such as complete blood count, chemistry panel, and/or urinalysis.

Different Types of Physical Exams

1. Well Woman Exam

Women can also get an annual physical called a well woman exam.[6] It can involve all the regular screenings, as well as pelvic exam, a pap smear, a breast exam, and other screenings or tests associated with women’s health.

2. Pediatric Physical

Children might receive specific screenings or tests during a pediatric physical. For example, the doctor might want to determine that they are in healthy height and weight ranges for their age.[7]

3. School Physical

Many schools require students, particularly new students, to undergo a school physical during the back-to-school timeframe in order to assess their ability to engage in many of the activities involved with each school day.

4. Sports Physical

Children engaging in structured sports activities are usually required to get a sports physical to assess their ability to participate in the sometimes strenuous physical requirements of team sports.

5. Employment Physical

If you have a specific job, certain tests might be necessary for you to pass your yearly physical during your annual exam, or you may have to get a specialized employment physical

6. DOT Exam Physical

Finally, if you are professional truck driver, it is required by federal law that you have an annual DOT exam performed by a licensed DOT medical examiner, or you risk losing your license.

Questions to Ask Your Doctor About Your Annual Physical

  • Am I due for any vaccines?
  • Am I currently at risk for any health issues, and if so, is there anything I can do to prevent them?
  • Is this (something you’ve seen, felt, or otherwise experienced) normal?
  • How is my weight?
  • When should I come back to see you?
  • What should I do to improve my health between then and now?

An Annual Physical May Also Be Known as

  • Check-up
  • Health check-up
  • Health maintenance
  • Health screening
  • Regular doctor’s visit
  • Preventative health care
  • Preventative doctor’s visit
  • Well woman

Frequently asked questions

  • Why should I get an annual physical exam?

    An annual physical exam helps in maintaining your health and wellness. It's a preventative measure that can help detect potential health issues early.
  • What are the risks associated with an annual physical?

    The risks are minimal. They mainly include the possibility of false positives from tests and the chance of catching a contagious illness at the doctor's office.
  • What happens during a physical exam?

    During a physical exam, your doctor will ask about your lifestyle behaviors, family medical history, vaccination status, and any personal health concerns. They may also conduct screenings for cholesterol or diabetes.
  • What are the different types of physical exams?

    There are several types of physical exams, including well woman exams, pediatric physicals, school physicals, sports physicals, employment physicals, and DOT exams.
  • What should I discuss with my doctor during my physical?

    It's important to discuss vaccines, potential health risks, weight concerns, and steps to improve health with your doctor during your physical.
  • Are annual physical exams covered by insurance?

    Yes, most insurance plans cover annual physical exams.
  • Are annual physical exams required for work?

    Some employers do require physical exams, but it varies by company and job role.
  • Do all doctors believe in the necessity of annual physicals?

    No, while some doctors believe annual physicals are essential, others do not. However, it's generally seen as a proactive measure for personal wellness.

Related Health Concerns

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Human Papillomavirus (HPV)


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Urinary Tract Infection (UTI)

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