WHY AN ANNUAL PHYSICAL MAY NOT BENEFIT YOU – BUT AN ANNUAL HEALTH ASSESSMENT COULD SAVE YOUR LIFE
An annual physical may not benefit you – but an annual health assessment could save your life. The annual physical exam is often debated in the medical literature and media. Since meeting our patients at least annually is the centerpiece of our practice at the Sheldon Sowell Center for Health, it may surprise you to learn that we’re on the anti-physical side.
How can that be?
The answer is right there in the name: A mere physical exam is way too limiting. In insurance-dependent practices, your height, weight, blood pressure, and temperature are measured. You may be handed a long list of ailments and told to put a check mark next to any you’re experiencing (chest pain? itchy skin? drinking too much?). Finally you get a once-over from the doctor.
Or maybe not! At many practices, a nurse practitioner or physician’s assistant does the exam, and it can take as little as 20 minutes. That shows you just how seriously many practices take this ritual: not very.
Of course, such a quick pass, often with no doctor in sight, is hardly enough to establish a plan of action for the year. To us, the physical part of the exam is the least important part. Even the so-called “Executive Physical,” while heavy on labs and X-rays, is woefully lacking in the one item that could truly extend your life: one-on-one time with a physician.
Then what’s the most important part of our annual meeting at the Sheldon Sowell Center? Simply put, it’s the part where you actually talk to your physician. Face to face. With your clothing on—not perched on an exam table in a skimpy paper gown. With your doctor looking at you, not a computer screen. Where you have all the time you need to tell your story and for your doctor to absorb that story and to learn what makes you tick—and how to keep you ticking as long as possible.
All physicians are trained in this art, but many let their interviewing skills lapse because it’s time-consuming and glossed over in favor of completing a computer-generated template that allows for maximum insurance reimbursement—at the cost of medical efficacy.
Here’s how we handle this at the Sheldon Sowell Center.
Your annual health assessment begins in a quiet room with comfortable chairs. The entire morning is reserved for you, so we have plenty of time.
You talk first. We listen.
When it’s our turn, we begin by asking the kind of open-ended questions that insurance-based practices shun because they might start a genuine conversation: What are your health goals? How has your health been to date? Any acute issues to discuss?
If this is your first visit, we’ll delve into your medical and surgical history, including trauma like broken bones and any hospitalizations. We review the medications you take, your allergies, and any other physicians on your care team.
Next, we turn our attention to how you spend your time: work, family, education, the places you’ve lived, your pets, and any military service.
Family history comes next. We’re interested in any conditions that are prevalent in your family that might affect your own health. We go over your travel history and immunizations to see if there are any gaps we should address.
Prevention is a big part of our work, so we’ll want to learn about your diet, exercise habits, and use of alcohol and tobacco. We’d like to know how you manage stress and what your social support system is like. Next we inquire about any studies you’ve had at other practices, including, for example, those of the heart, lungs and colon. Do you use sunscreen? See a dermatologist? Who looks after your eyes? Is your dental care up-to-date?
By this point we know each other pretty well, and only then do we go to the exam room and ask you to change into cloth exam apparel we’ve designed and sewn ourselves so that they’re comfortable and maintain your modesty. (If you’ve ever been in a paper exam gown you know what we mean.) The annual health assessment provides a thorough physical exam and then turn you over to our college-graduate Registered Nurses who draw your blood, obtain a urine specimen, do an ECG, and test your hearing and vision.
With that complete, your physician goes to work, requesting and reviewing your medical records from other physicians. When your labs come back your physician creates a detailed written report for you with a copy of all your labs, an explanation of each, a detailed discussion of our clinical impressions, and our suggestions. This document is intended to serve as a snapshot of your current health and a blueprint for the coming year.
The entire process takes upwards of six hours of physician time, and we provide this each and every year you are with our practice. Now you understand why we don’t call it a “physical” but instead, a Comprehensive Health Assessment.
Why do we dedicate six hours or more to a process that most doctors dispense with in 20 minutes? Because actually getting to know a patient is a prerequisite for accurate diagnosis, allowing us to swing into action if an emergency arises and tailor our specialist referrals to your precise needs and preferences.
Ultimately, we created our Comprehensive Health Assessment to give you the one thing that insurance-based practices literally can’t afford: time and personal attention. For more information about what make Sheldon Sowell Center for Health different watch our video