What to Expect at Your Annual Exam

Written by Becky Flora-Waterman, FNP-C, MSN, BSed

Annual exams should happen once yearly as their name implies. But what can you expect at your next one? Following are the basics of any thorough yearly exam and physical.

*Chart updates. Unfortunately, at least once yearly, we must update your chart information. Come prepared with your insurance card. You will be asked to fill out an update form so that we have the most current information in our records. This can sometimes take a few minutes, so come a little early if you can. Bring someone with you if you think this might be too difficult for you to do on your own.

*Vitals. Just as with other appointments, your nurse will weigh you and check your blood pressure, heart rate, respiratory rate, temperature, and oxygen saturation levels.

*Medication and allergy reconciliation. The nurse and/or the provider will make sure that your current medication and allergy lists are up-to-date. If you cannot remember what you take with correct frequency and dosing, bring your medication bottles with you to your appointment. This is a very important part of avoiding medication mistakes. Be sure to request needed refills at this time as well.

*Personal and family medical history updates. This is the time to report any new diagnoses that you may have received from a specialist as well as update any new diagnoses that your family members may have received over the last year.

*Social history updates. You will be asked a series of questions about your current lifestyle, including questions about alcohol and tobacco use. We will also ascertain your risks for falling and depression and evaluate your cognitive function if of a certain age. This helps your provider understand your needs better and satisfies required screening questions set forth by your insurance company.

*Screenings. This is the time that your provider will make sure that you are up-to-date on recommended screenings, including mammograms, colon cancer screenings, bone density tests, cervical cancer screenings, prostate cancer screenings, etc.

*Labs. Prior to your exam, you will most likely have had some routine labs as well as any specific labs that might be required for needed screenings or follow-up. A good part of your annual exam will be reviewing these with the provider who will explain the results and make recommendations for improving upon them.

*Physical exam. This is your yearly head to toe exam. Expect a physical that is hands-on as your provider will assess most of your body systems for any irregularities. Gynecological exams may also be conducted with your annual physical but can be alternately scheduled at a later date if preferred.

*Your time to ask questions. This is your time. Come prepared with a list of questions or concerns. Our desire is for you to feel that these have been addressed at your annual exam. Bring a family member or friend with you if you think having them along might help your visit go better. Get home and realize you forgot to ask something or feel confused about something you and your provider discussed? This is when our Patient Portal really comes in handy! Make sure that your Portal is ready to go so you have access to this helpful resource at all times.