Annual Physical a Necessity for Effective Preventive Care

Premier HealthNet Physician Assistant Explains Various Preventive Testing Needs

DAYTON, Ohio (January 29, 2013) – Preventive health care is the building block to living a longer, healthier life.  Blood pressure, cholesterol, cancer and diabetes screenings are preventive tests that all adults should be receiving on a regular basis.

“Every person should have an annual physical exam, no matter what,” said Breanna Veal, a Physician Assistant at Walden Ponds Primary Care; member of one of the region’s largest network of primary care physicians, Premier HealthNet. “It’s at these appointments that health care providers recommend the testing that is most appropriate for a patient based on their individual situation.”

At an annual physical exam, also known as a preventive exam, adult patients can possibly expect to have their height, weight, lipids, blood sugar, and blood pressure screened. They can also expect a physician to ask questions about family history, specifically about the health of  parents, grandparents and siblings, current medical conditions such as frequent headaches, problem areas or new or unusual symptoms a patient may be having.

This annual exam is important for another reason – because appropriate medical testing is ever-evolving. Veal said health regulatory agencies are constantly evaluating and re-evaluating tests and screenings, which means that recommendations can change. For example, the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology, the United States Preventive Service Task Force and the American Cancer Society have all updated their recommendations on the frequency that women should be receiving pap smears from on an annual basis to every three years after the age 21.

Preventive testing happens throughout a person’s life and can vary for men and women. Veal says that for women it’s important to begin clinical breast exams in their 20’s.  Mammograms are recommended for women at age 50, but depending on a woman’s family history of breast cancer, screening may begin at age 40 or earlier.

Men between the age of 65 and 70 are often screened for abdominal aortic aneurysm, which is the abnormal ballooning of the large blood vessel that brings blood to the abdomen, pelvis and legs.  This is especially a risk for those who are current or former smokers. 

Men and women alike are screened for lipid and cholesterol levels to identify the patient’s risk for heart conditions.  Diabetes screening is also recommended since lifestyle changes and medication may be indicated to prevent long term side effects of the disease.

Another test that is important for both men and women are screening colonoscopies.  These are typically recommended for patients starting at age 50 since early detection and treatment of colon abnormalities result in better patient outcomes.  It’s recommended that African Americans and patients who have a first-degree relative who has been diagnosed with colon cancer have their first screening at 40 or 45.

Veal also recommends patients get routine screenings of skin, vision and hearing.

Almost as important as the screenings themselves, Veal said, is understanding why they are being done and what the course of treatment will be.   “Sometimes the best way to truly understand the reasoning behind these tests is to ask questions about the screenings,” she said.  Patients can question their doctor about what test result is considered normal or abnormal.  It is also good to know what the next step will be if there is an abnormality detected.

 In addition to understanding why a primary care physician is recommending a certain preventive screening, Veal suggests looking into what tests are covered by insurance before having them done so that there are no surprises afterwards.  Many insurance companies now cover preventive care to improve the overall health of their covered population.

“Call your insurance company and make sure that the tests you are about to have are covered,” Veal said. Understanding the benefits of screening and being prepared for any costs helps patient make educated decisions to improve their health.

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