Comprehensive Medical Evaluation: An Important Step to Wellness

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A comprehensive medical evaluation assesses all aspects of a person’s health. It includes a full physical examination, as well as an opportunity to discuss lifestyle choices and habits. It can be conducted at any time, and a person does not have to be sick or have a health problem to do a comprehensive medical evaluation.

A comprehensive medical evaluation is not a form of treatment; it is merely a look at a person’s overall health, which can help prevent possible diseases or disorders or manage potential problems.

Depending on a person’s age, it is beneficial to have a comprehensive medical evaluation every year, or every other year, to ensure that a person stays on top of their health and continually monitors any arising health problems.

What Types of Doctors are Involved in a Comprehensive Medical Evaluation?

There are multiple healthcare providers involved in a medical evaluation. A complete medical examination typically begins with a nurse or a healthcare provider that gathers information about the patient’s health status and medical history. Then, the patient will meet with a physician who will conduct the remainder of the physical exams. The doctor might then refer the patient to other specialists or order specific screenings or testing. This testing will be sent to a laboratory.

What Does a Standard Comprehensive Medical Evaluation Include? 

As indicated by the name, a comprehensive medical evaluation is a thorough look at all things related to a person’s health. While medical examinations will differ from one doctor to the next, typically they will include:

Updated Medical History

The doctor will ask for a full medical history, including any previous illnesses, surgeries, hospitalizations, medications, allergies, etc., and for any updates to current medical conditions.

Vital Signs Checks

The doctor will check the patient’s blood pressure, heart rate, and respiratory rate. Blood pressure should be checked every 1-3 years depending on a person’s medical history. The doctor will also take the patient’s temperature to check for fever.

Visual Exam

The doctor will conduct a visual examination, which means that they will review the patient’s appearance for any signs of potential issues. They will typically examine the skin, head, eyes, chest, abdomen, elbows and joints, musculoskeletal system (hands, wrists), and nervous system functions such as speech and walking ability.

Physical Exam

After conducting a visual exam, the doctor will conduct a physical exam where they use specific instruments to look into the eyes, ears, nose, and throat. They will use a stethoscope to listen to the heart, lungs or abdomen to make sure that they are functioning normally and there is no presence of a heart or lung disease.

The doctor will feel parts of the body with their hands to feel for any abnormalities, such as looking for masses or lumps in the abdomen. The doctor will also perform a neurological exam where they assess motor function, nerves, muscle strength, reflexes, and balance. The doctor might also perform a dermatological exam where they examine the patient’s skin and nails.

Laboratory Tests

The doctor will draw blood for various laboratory tests. This might include a complete blood count and a complete metabolic panel that tests the blood plasma in order to detect any issues in the kidneys, liver, blood chemistry and immune system. Any irregularities detected in the blood might be indicative of bigger problems. The doctor might also conduct a diabetes screen or thyroid screen, and if the patient has an increased risk of having a heart attack, heart disease or a stroke, the doctor might request a cholesterol test.

Imaging Studies

The doctor may have the patient complete X-rays, a computer tomography scan (CT), a magnetic resonance scan (MRI), or an electrocardiogram (EKG).

Screening Tests

Depending on what information a patient has given their doctor, such as medical history and age, the doctor might request any of the following tests:

For Women

Mammogram

Women who have a low or average risk of developing breast cancer should have a mammogram (an x-ray image of the breasts) done every two years between the ages of 50 to 74. Women at higher risk of developing breast cancer may need to have a mammogram done earlier in life and more frequently. A breast exam might also be conducted to check for abnormal lumps or signs of breast cancer.

Pap Smear

A pap smear is a screening test where cells are extracted from the cervix and tested for cervical cancer. It is recommended that women begin getting pap smears at the age of 21 and then every three years after that. After the age of 30, pap smears are recommended every five years, and after the age of 65, most women no longer require pap smears. Pap smears are important because early detection of cervical cancer leads to the best rate of recovery.

Pelvic Exam

A pelvic exam can be conducted with or without a pap smear screening. During a pelvic exam, the doctor will examine the vagina, cervix, and vulva to check for sexually transmitted infections or other conditions.

Cholesterol Test

Women should begin regular cholesterol checks at the age of 45; however, if a woman is at risk of developing diabetes or heart disease, they may need to begin cholesterol checks as early as in their 20s.

Osteoporosis Screening

It is recommended that women start having bone mineral density tests around the age of 65 to screen for osteoporosis.

For Men

Prostate Cancer Screening

Starting at the age of 50, prostate cancer screening might be necessary for some men. It is important to discuss with a doctor when the appropriate time for a prostate cancer screening may be.

Testicular Exam

A doctor might examine each testicle for lumps, changes in size, tenderness, or any other problems.

Cholesterol Test

Men should begin regular cholesterol checks at the age of 35 unless they have a genetic predisposition to diabetes or heart disease, in which case they may need to begin cholesterol checks as early as age 20.

For Both Men and Women

Colon Cancer Screening

Screening for colon cancer is recommended starting at the age of 50 for both men and women but might be needed earlier, depending on an individual’s medical history.

Lung Cancer Screening

A CT scan of the lungs is recommended for both men and women over the age of 55 who have smoked in the past or who currently smoke.

Depression

A screening for symptoms of depression is recommended at every medical evaluation as symptoms of depression are easily missed or can be attributed to other problems.

Diabetes

If a person has a family history of diabetes or is at risk for developing diabetes (e.g., being overweight, having high blood pressure or high cholesterol), they should be screened for diabetes.

Vaccinations

Comprehensive medical evaluations are a good time to make sure that all vaccinations are current.

STI Screening

Depending on a person’s sexual history, they might undergo a sexually-transmitted infection screening to check for any issues that need addressing. This might include HIV testing or testing for syphilis.

Once a person has completed a medical evaluation, a doctor might request that they come back for a follow-up appointment to discuss any health problems they have, review lab test results, and devise a health plan going forward.

How are Comprehensive Medical Evaluations Performed? 

Medical evaluations are performed at a doctor’s office or the office of a primary healthcare provider. Typically, the patient will meet with a nurse first who will ask them about their medical history, allergies, past surgeries, immunizations, and any symptoms they might be experiencing. After that, the doctor will conduct a vital signs check, physical exam and visual exam.

The patient may have their blood drawn at the doctor’s office or provide other samples that are then sent to a lab for testing. Other screening or testing might also be completed in a hospital or a medical laboratory. A comprehensive medical evaluation is not a typical visit to a doctor’s office; it can take quite a long time, especially if a person is having significant testing done. Testing might occur at different locations over the span of several days or weeks, and then it will take more time for the results of any tests to come back.

How Can a Person Prepare for Having a Comprehensive Medical Evaluation?

Unless a person is having a specific test done that requires them to not eat for a certain number of hours beforehand, there is not much that has to be done before undergoing a comprehensive medical evaluation.

It would be beneficial, however, to create a list of the following:

Current medications

Medical and surgical history

Allergies

Symptoms of specific health issues

Any recent lab test results

The names, phone numbers, and addresses of doctors or specialists already seen

Information about any implantable medical devices currently being used

A person should also be prepared to answer questions about their health and lifestyle, such as their diet, sleep habits, exercise, alcohol or substance use, and stress. They should also prepare any questions that they might want to ask the doctor. A comprehensive medical evaluation is a perfect time to ask a doctor questions and discuss overall health and what changes might need to take place.

What are the Benefits of Having a Comprehensive Medical Evaluation?

Receive Information on Health Status

A comprehensive medical evaluation gives a person the chance to have a thorough understanding of their health as a whole. Oftentimes, people only visit healthcare providers when they have a specific issue, so having a full evaluation done gives a person an idea of their current health status, helps them to identify any health problems they may have, and gives them the opportunity to create a plan to improve their health. Medical evaluations also help a person keep track of their health and keep all of their health information on file, making it easier for future healthcare providers to refer back to.

Look Deeper into Root Cause of Multiple Issues

For a person experiencing multiple health issues that they suspect might be related, an evaluation allows the doctor to look at their health holistically, rather than simply treating each problem individually.

Build a Relationship with a Doctor

Another benefit of having a complete medical examination is being able to create a relationship with a physician. Because doctor’s appointments are often brief, a person might not feel like they have the opportunity for their healthcare provider to get the full picture of their health. It is important for the doctor to know as much as they can about their patient, even if it’s small details about what impacts their daily life (such as stressors). Not all medications or treatments are right for everyone, and it is important to have healthcare that is tailored to a person’s individual needs. A comprehensive medical evaluation gives a person the opportunity and time to talk to their doctor about concerns and create a plan for how to make changes. Having a good relationship with a physician makes it easier to discuss sensitive health concerns or fears that they may have. It also allows a person to feel more comfortable asking questions about their health.

Identify Health Issues

A comprehensive medical evaluation helps a doctor identify any potential problems causing a person to experience symptoms. Routine check-ups do not involve the same level of thoroughness in testing and examination as a comprehensive evaluation does, so problems that might be missed during check-ups can be identified in a comprehensive evaluation. Having complete testing done allows a person to know for certain that they are in good health, and it allows them to identify and tackle potential health issues.

Prevent Health Issues

A major benefit of having a complete physical examination done is to help a person prevent any issues for which they might be at risk for. It can give a person more information on which problems could be avoided by changing their lifestyle habits or by taking medications. Screening tests also allow for the early detection of disease, which will help in the outcome of treating or curing those diseases.

How Often Should a Person Have a Complete Physical Examination? 

In the 1940s, conducting routine comprehensive physical examinations became standard medical practice; however, in recent decades, healthcare providers have begun to question whether they are really necessary every year. While approximately 92% of Americans believe that a person should get an annual or routine physical examination done, only 62% actually do.1

Studies have shown, however, that complete physical examinations do not seem to decrease mortality or make that much of a difference in the early detection of disease. On the contrary, it is seen as a waste of time and resources for doctors to be spending time with healthy patients when they could be tending to people who are sick.

That being said, routine physical examinations are still important for the elderly who have a higher chance of developing a health-related issue. Amongst those under the age of 40, if a person is healthy, they only need a complete physical examination every 5 years. Those above the age of 40 might need one every 1-3 years.2

For those who struggle with health issues, regular checkups might still be beneficial. You should discuss with your doctor what they believe is the best practice for you.