The Importance of a Yearly Physical

Most people will agree that when you get sick, it’s time to go to the doctor. And some think that any doctor will do—they all went to medical school, right? So, why bother finding a primary care doctor and going in for annual physicals?

The role of a primary care provider

Primary care providers, or PCPs, are your first line of defense against threats to your health. Ideally, you find a PCP that you like and have confidence in, and you stay with that provider for many, many years. As your PCP gets to know you and your “normal” level of health, they’ll be much more likely to notice even small changes that could point to early problems. Their other job is to coordinate your health care and keep an eye on your overall health, especially if you see specialists for certain medical conditions.

If you only go to walk-in clinics when you’re sick, or to specialists when you have a specific problem: No matter how great those doctors are, they just don’t know you like your primary care provider.

Are annual physicals important?

Yes! Again, even if you have a PCP, if you only see them when you’re sick, then it’s much harder for them to get an idea of what the normal, healthy you looks like, sounds like and acts like. And, when you go in for a sick visit, the doctor usually only asks about the symptoms you have right then and examines whatever part of you is unwell.

At your annual checkup, your PCP will examine all of you, taking notes and comparing them to the notes from the year before. Did that mole on your shoulder change color? It might need a second look. Is your heart beating at a slightly different rhythm? Maybe you should go in for a stress test. Spotting small things now can keep them from becoming big problems down the line.

But does it really make a difference?

It depends on what’s important to you, but according to research, patients who visit their PCP for an annual physical:

  • Are almost 20 percent less likely to die prematurely 
  • Save about one-third on their medical costs vs. those who only see specialists
  • Have fewer trips to the emergency room (where services cost four times more than in a PCP’s office)

So, if health and wellness are important to you, then yes, it really makes a difference!

Listen to our podcast to find out what to expect when you go to your yearly physical.