Dr. John R. Roberts, a family medicine physician with Franciscan Physician Network Crawfordsville Family Medicine in Crawfordsville, Indiana, answers your questions and shares expert insight to help you make informed decisions about your annual wellness exam.
Q: My annual health physical is coming up. How can I best prepare for my doctor's visit?
A: Let me begin by saying that the term annual "physical" has become a bit antiquated. A patient used to come in once a year for a check-up that included updating his or her medical history as well as a physical examination. Drawing some blood work and perhaps having the patient give a urine specimen was also typical.
We have found that performing a routine physical exam and a basic set of lab work on every patient rarely results in improving health or the discovery of hidden medical issues. Patient and physician time is better spent focusing on risk factors and recommended health maintenance items that have been shown to have a clear positive effect on health.
Much of the wellness visit is based on attending to recommendations from various health-related agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force (USPSTF). These organizations evaluate the medical literature and make evidence-based recommendations based on age and other risk factors such as smoking status and weight. These include things such as screening tests for cervical cancer (Pap smear), breast cancer (mammography), hypertension, diabetes, high cholesterol, colon cancer, depression and more. The wellness visit is also the time to discuss recommended vaccinations.
It's a good idea to research the recommended screenings for your situation before coming for your wellness visit so that you can discuss the recommendations with your healthcare provider. You can go to cdc.gov and search for "screening recommendations."
Insurance coverage for wellness exams and certain preventative health services is required if you have a health insurance policy that is compliant with the Affordable Care Act, i.e. "Obamacare."
To get your full benefit, make sure to have your provider bill your visit using a preventative healthcare code. Please note that if you bring up additional medical problems not related to wellness during your visit, that your medical provider might also bill for those services separately. Occasionally those additional services are covered by insurance if performed at the time of the wellness visit, but usually they are not.