As a family nurse practitioner, many patients ask me if they should get a physical every year and my answer is always yes. It is a yes, because everyone needs a physical but not every person may need to do one every year. Many patients who have significant medical problems benefit from having a physical at least once a year as this visit focuses on the overall person and not necessarily on a specific medical problem.
During a physical, the patient and provider discuss the patient’s current medical history, future health risks and discuss ways in which a person can maintain good health, prevent worsening health and address health concerns. The visit may include lab work, imaging like a mammogram, bone density or chest x-ray. Additionally, it includes a discussion about vaccines that may be recommended by the CDC (Center for Disease Control) based on the person’s age and current health status.
Additional discussions about the patient’s family medical history and patient’s current medications allow myself and the patient to discuss medications effectiveness, side effects and purpose of the medication in case the patient forget why they need the medication. Before setting up a physical, my staff reminds patients to collect medical information about conditions that run in their family including high cholesterol, heart disease, strokes, colon cancer, breast cancer, etc. so a patient’s risk for developing this problem can be properly assessed. Additionally, my patients bring in all medications with them so we can discuss those that can be discontinued and those that should be continued. If a patient takes medication daily, it’s important to know the name, doses, frequency and why they take the medication. This often saves a lot of time and allows the person to have more time to discuss other concerns with me.
On some occasions, if the patient is ill or has other concerning health problems needing immediate intervention; I may choose to postpone the physical or if it is a new patient with many health problems I often complete the physical at the second visit after reviewing all medical records. We are trained as providers to help patients improve their overall health, however, time constraints may limit the time we have available to complete both a preventative visit and a visit focused on an urgent problem all in the same appointment. It may seem annoying to have to return for the physical later if this is the case, but it is always in the patient’s interest to take their time and have all their concerns addressed even if it takes more than one visit, as this will allow me to complete the physical without rushing through it because the patient has a more urgent medical problem that needs to be taken care of immediately.
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Keisha Ellis is a certified family nurse practitioner for Eastern New Mexico Medical Group’s Quick Care. The advice offered in this column is that of the author.