When was the last time you had a routine physical? Well, lets face it…I am no spring chicken. The combination of having our first kiddo and just getting old has me thinking about my health more and more these days. I want to be around, if you know what I mean. Cycling helps me stay in shape physically and mentally. But life is what it is and I still get rundown from time to time. Honestly I dread going to see the doctor (and dentist for that matter) but being responsible and a good steward has never been more important. So, I checked in with Dr. Rankin to find out more about getting that routine physical. Check it!
OCA: Why is it important to get checked out from time to time?
JR: It’s important because a lot of chronic and sometimes serious illnesses start out rather mild or unnoticed unless you actually go looking for them. These “checkups” can help identify risk factors and other problems before they become more serious. If diseases are caught early, their treatment is usually much more effective. The visit is also important to make sure you are protected against vaccine preventable illnesses so that you don’t catch and then spread illnesses to those around you (such as children that are too young to be immunized).
OCA: What should I expect at a routine physical?
JR: That generally depends on your age/sex and any identifiable risk factors that are usually noted on one of those long health/family/social history forms that a lot of people incorrectly brush off as unimportant. The visit can also vary from practice to practice, but usually you can first expect your vitals (height, weight, BP, pulse, etc.) to be recorded. Then your doctor will ask you a series of health questions and go over your past medical, surgical, and family history with you. If you’re already an established patient with the physician, the history section of the visit is usually a little shorter as most of this information is already in your patient record or your physician is well acquainted with you. Your history helps guide the rest of the visit. In addition to assessing your overall wellness, your doctor will attempt to identify risk factors for certain types of cancer, cardiovascular disease, and other illnesses. You can then expect a physical exam during which your physician will examine most if not all of your body systems. Again, the exam part varies depending on your age and sex. After the exam, your doctor will usually go over any abnormal findings from your history or exam with you, and then additional screening or diagnostic tests may be ordered. For example, a screening colonoscopy may be recommended at age 50 for patients with no earlier family history of colon cancer, or a mammogram may be ordered at age 40 for a woman with no earlier family history of breast cancer. In my practice, we try to have routine blood tests such as a complete blood count (CBC), comprehensive metabolic panel (CMP), cholesterol panel, thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH), and, for men over 50, a prostate specific antigen (PSA) done about 1-2 days prior to the actual wellness visit so that these lab results can be discussed at the time of that visit, rather than potentially discussing and/or treating problem over a phone call a few days after the visit.
OCA: Is it important to know my medical history?
JR: Absolutely! In fact, it is vital. Who else knows you better than you? It is usually much easier (and more fun) for me as a physician to get your history from you than have to pour over pages and pages of medical records (although in some cases this is still necessary). And even if you are an established patient at your physician’s office, there may be something in your past history or family history that your doctor may have forgotten or may not know (we’re only human), so the annual wellness visit is a great time to remind them of that family history of early onset colon cancer or heart disease for example.
OCA: How long will it take?
JR: This depends on how complicated your past medical history is and how many risk factors for certain diseases you have. If you are generally healthy, the visit could be as short as 10-15 minutes. On the other hand if your medical history is very complicated or you are at very high risk of a certain disease or illness, your visit may take longer.
OCA: Any tips for how a patient can get the most out of their exam?
JR: I’d first recommend trying to obtain and fill out those health history forms prior to the visit. In my practice, we like to have those available online so that patients can fill them out early. If you have an immunization record, bring it with you. Be prepared to ask if you’re due for any general screenings or vaccines. If you have specific questions about particular health concerns, write those down so you don’t forget to ask, and do not be embarrassed about asking your physician the questions you have. When your doctor provides his or her recommendations about your health or additional tests, take notes and bring your calendar/planner so that these tests can be scheduled.
OCA: How important is the routine physical for doctors to help patients stay well?
JR: I cannot stress enough how important these visits are! In my own practice, I have picked up on cases of very early colon cancer, breast cancer, prostate cancer, skin cancer, leukemia, hyperlipidemia, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease among various other illnesses as a direct result of a patient coming in for routine blood work and a wellness exam during which routine screening exams were ordered or performed. A lot of these individuals were totally without symptoms and were just expecting their blood pressure to be taken, heart listened to, and then a pat on the back. Like I said before, when these issues are uncovered early, it could make treatment much easier and more effective.
On a personal note, the wellness visit gives me a chance to see my patients when they’re…not sick. It’s difficult to get to know someone when the only time you see them is when they are feeling miserable or suffering and really don’t want to be anywhere but in bed. Thus, the wellness visit grants me the opportunity to establish continuity with my patients, which is why I went into primary care to begin with.
OCA: A big thanks to Dr. Rankin for taking the time to interview. Some very sound advice for sure. I probably should make an appointment soon!
To see the previous post on hydration with Dr. Rankin click here.
Looking for a doctor who understands the athletes’ lifestyle? Check him out, click here.
Dr. Joshua Rankin
FirstCare Family Doctors – Tontitown, a MANA Clinic
171 N. Maestri Rd.
Springdale, AR 72762
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