What is a well-check visit?

Health Minute

A well-check visit, also called an annual physical or check-up, is a preventative measure and a time for communication with your physician. According to the Journal of Family Practice, annual physical exams reduce risks of potentially missed diagnoses. The purpose of these visits is to screen for diseases, assess risk of future medical problems, encourage a healthy lifestyle, update vaccinations and maintain a relationship with a doctor in case of an illness.

Routine physical exams are a good way for patients to start a dialogue with their primary care physician. Make the most of these visits by writing down important questions and concerns to bring with you. At your annual well-check be sure to mention any complaints or concerns about your health. And be prepared that your doctor will likely ask you about important behaviors, like smoking, alcohol use, diet, and exercise. The doctor may also make sure your vaccinations are up-to-date and update your personal and family medical history. A well-check can detect problems before they become serious.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services offers these tips when you visit your doctor:

  • List your questions and concerns. Before your appointment, make a list of what you want to ask. When you’re in the waiting room, review your list and organize your thoughts. You can share the list with your doctor or nurse.
  • Describe your symptoms. Say when these problems started. Say how they make you feel. If you know, say what sets them off or triggers them. Say what you’ve done to feel better.
  • Give your doctor a list of your medications or, better yet, bring all medications to your office visit. Tell what prescription drugs and over-the-counter medicines, vitamins, herbal products, and other supplements you’re taking.
  • Be honest about your diet, physical activity, smoking, alcohol or drug use, and sexual history. Not sharing information with your doctor or nurse can be harmful!
  • Describe any allergies to drugs, foods, pollen, or other things. Don’t forget to mention if you are being treated by other doctors, including mental health professionals.
  • Talk about sensitive topics. Your doctor or nurse has probably heard it before! Don’t leave something out because you’re worried about taking up too much time. Be sure to talk about all of your concerns before you leave. If you don’t understand the answers your doctor gives you, ask again.
  • Ask questions about any tests and your test results. Get instructions on what you need to do to get ready for the test(s). Ask if there are any dangers or side effects. Ask how you can learn the test results. Ask how long it will take to get the results.
  • Ask questions about your condition or illness. If you are diagnosed with a condition, ask your doctor how you can learn more about it. What caused it? Is it permanent? What can you do to help yourself feel better? How can it be treated?
  • Tell your doctor or nurse if you are pregnant or intend to become pregnant. Some medicines may not be suitable for you. Other medicines should be used with caution if you are pregnant or about to become pregnant.
  • Ask your doctor about any treatments he or she recommends. Be sure to ask about all of your options for treatment. Ask how long the treatment is. 

At your annual well-check visit, discuss any health concerns that you may have, and your physician will work with you on a personal care plan.