Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Annual Physical

As a child you would go to your pediatrician and, after reading 'Highlights' magazine in the waiting room, you would sit there in your underwear and they would measure and weigh you, check your eyes, ears, nose, throat, pulse, heart rate, ask questions about how you have been. You might get a shot (followed by a lollipop) and off you would go.

Now, you go to your primary care physician once a year, or as frequently as your insurance allows, and the nurse might measure your height and weigh you (I always ask that they subtract 20 lbs but I don't think they do). The nurse checks your temperature, pulse and blood pressure and you change in to a lovely Dr. See-More-Buttz gown and wait for the doctor. When they come in, they sit and ask you a few questions, check heart and lungs. Maybe a quick peek in your ears and down your throat. They might send you off for blood work or other tests. And that's it for another year (unless you are like me and other 'issues' crop up where you get to return for more fun tests). Your 5-10 minutes of doctor interaction are done.

Today health care is rushed. Your doctor is rushing from one patient to the next. Insurance companies dictate many things. Hospitals are trying to cut costs by scheduling shorter appointments. Doctors don't have time to spend with you. They are also often relying on expensive tests to tell them the things they don't have time to look at. Do you remember the days when they would send you for a test and tell you to come back in for the results? Now you are lucky enough if they remember to call you in person, instead of sending a letter in the mail.

Isn't the annual physical something that people had as part of preventive care to catch things before they got bad? Dr. Verghese wants to revive the lost art of the annual physical.

I do go for an annual physical each year. When I leave sometimes I feel like "That's it? That's all it is?". Should the doctor have spent more time with me? Didn't I have more questions? I head off for blood work and my annual chest x-ray (I have had a thingy in my lungs for nearly 30 years and there is an annual picture of it in my medical records for the duration). My current PCP will send me a copy of my xray report and blood work with a little handwritten note scrawled on them.

I hope other people get as much attention as I do but am sure that many skip their annual physical, don't have insurance, or for whatever reason. I don't get a lollipop anymore but I still feel cared for.

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