For many men, the annual physical is the only time they see a medical professional all year. And, while they may have a rote conversation with their doctor and receive a basic exam, most of these men will walk out of the clinic knowing just as little about their health as they did when they walked in. While some may feel nothing more than relief to have it over with, others may worry: Could my annual physical be missing something?
If you’re one of those men concerned about whether your annual physical is doing any good, rest assured that you’re not alone. Some experts call for doing away with the yearly checkup completely, suggesting practitioners instead use appointments to establish relationships and focus on preventative care.
Why is the annual physical so controversial? Let’s take a closer look at this complex question.
Detection is Key to Prevention
“If everything is normal in my annual physical check-up, does that mean I’m in good health?” This is a very common question – either expressed or thought about – among my patients. Unfortunately, the answer is a resounding “Actually, No.”
The annual physical is a great starting point for finding out if something is already wrong, but the limited standard testing covered by insurance companies is simply not designed to detect and prevent health issues before they occur.
Case in point: a national study conducted at the University of California-Los Angeles found that nearly 75 percent of patients hospitalized for a heart attack had cholesterol levels that did not indicate risk of a cardiac event according to national cholesterol guidelines. What’s even more disturbing is that, among this 75 percent, close to half had LDL cholesterol levels that were classified as “optimal.”
While I firmly believe in the ability of lifestyle modification to reduce your risk of disease (which is why I wrote here about the top 5 foods for heart attack and stroke prevention and here about how basic diet changes can affect heart health), I also appreciate the power of testing for prevention of cardiovascular problems. Unfortunately, the standard testing protocol offered at your annual physical might not be adequate for detection and prevention of these problems.
You can read about the top tests for heart attack prevention that could save your life here. I offer all of them to my patients as part of my Tack180 programs, and the Heart Health program is a great place to start.
“I just had a physical and my doctor says I’m fine. Why do I still have unexplained symptoms?” I get this question a lot from concerned patients. Honestly, they have reason for concern.
Undiagnosed symptoms are the root cause of everything from impotence and insomnia to heart disease and cancer. The ability to get in front of these issues—to understand where they come from and why—is the key to their solution and prevention.
Change Your Checkup to a “Check-in”
Another thing your annual physical might be missing? Accountability. Research suggests the standard checkup—the kind where the doctor goes over a patient’s complaints, orders lab tests, goes over results, and tells the patient to get more exercise or lose weight—does little to actually lower a patient’s chances of getting sick (or even dying). People simply don’t tend to make meaningful lifestyle changes based on the care they receive the one time a year they see the doctor.
It took me years to figure out what why my patients weren’t taking my advice. It wasn’t until I started treating checkups as an opportunity to “check in” with my patients and help them set achievable goals that I (and they) started seeing results.
I realized that I needed to reframe my idea of a checkup, focusing on what mattered to my patients instead of the lab values on their charts. If they had a sense of purpose and my support in holding them accountable, my patients had a much better chance of achieving their health goals.
It’s not so much what’s the matter with you, it’s what matters to you. For more on how to change your checkup to a “check in” and potentially add years to your life, watch my TEDx Talk.
Find Your Purpose, Optimize Your Health
As an integrative physician, I approach my patients from the point of view that health is a tool to be optimized in service of a life well lived as opposed to simply focusing on disease treatment or avoidance. I also emphasize the value of identifying one’s own unique set of risks that could interfere with the ability to stay healthy in order to win at what matters to each patient.
To learn more about how a purpose-driven approach to health can help you reach your goals, contact Tack180 for a free consultation. And for the best scientifically-validated health tips and articles sent to your inbox, sign up for my newsletter below.
Myles Spar, MD, MPH is board-certified in Internal Medicine and in Integrative Medicine. As a clinician, teacher and researcher on faculty of two major medical centers, he has led the charge for a more proactive, holistic and personalized approach to care that focuses on cutting edge technology and preventative care. Dr. Spar has traveled with the NBA, presented a TEDx Talk, appeared on Dr. Oz, and been featured in publications such as the Men’s Journal and the Los Angeles Times.