Know Before You Go: Routine Physical

Make the most of your routine physical by following these simple steps before your appointment.

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Even doctors don’t always look forward to routine physicals, but they are truly one of the best ways to safeguard your health. Check out these tips to be proactive about your health and get the most out of your next visit.

This content originally appeared on

Medically reviewed in June 2019.

Which Doctors Can Perform Physicals?

2 / 10 Which Doctors Can Perform Physicals?

All doctors have been trained in how to perform a routine physical, but specialists usually stop performing them regularly after they specialize in a particular type of medicine, such as cardiology or OB/GYN. Primary care professionals, including general internal medicine physicians, pediatricians, family physicians and some nurse practitioners and physician assistants, provide the vast majority of routine physicals. Internal medicine physicians primarily treat adults, pediatricians only treat children and family medicine doctors treat people of all ages.

Call Ahead

3 / 10 Call Ahead

Ask if your doctor’s office accepts your insurance and be clear on how much you will need to pay personally for the visit. Ask what services your doctor can provide -- some general practitioners can also provide pelvic exams and Pap smears, potentially saving you an extra doctor’s visit. Ask if you will need routine blood work so you know if you should fast or hold off on taking certain medications before coming.

Keep a List

4 / 10 Keep a List

Write down your questions and concerns and list them from most to least important. Even if you don’t have time to get to them all, the most important ones will be addressed and you can schedule a follow-up for the remaining issues. Be open and honest with your questions -- there is no question too embarrassing to bring up.

Bring Your Medications

5 / 10 Bring Your Medications

Don’t forget an up-to-date list of your medications, including their names, dosages, how often you take them and what time you take them. Also include any supplements or over-the-counter medications that you take. Even better, bring both a list and a bag of your medications with you so that your doctor can double-check exactly what you are taking.

Know Your Family’s Medical History

6 / 10 Know Your Family’s Medical History

Know your family’s medical history. Your doctor will want to know if your parents, siblings and children are still living and if they have any health problems (especially heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol or cancer). To help you remember all of the specifics, keep a document of your family’s medical issues up to date and bring it with you to the appointment.

What to Expect

7 / 10 What to Expect

The doctor will begin with a medical history, which includes questions about any present concerns, past medical history, medications, family health history, questions about your life at home and work and sexual health. Expect a head-to-toe physical exam, which may or may not include a pelvic and breast exam or a rectal exam, depending on your gender, age and whether you have another provider who performs those for you. You can also ask your doctor to perform a skin exam to check for suspicious moles. The doctor may also order blood work or vaccines based on what is recommended for your age, gender and specific health history.

Prepare for Hard Questions

8 / 10 Prepare for Hard Questions

Doctors are trained to ask a variety of questions that may feel very personal, because they are often relevant to your overall health. Do not be surprised if your doctor asks you about your smoking history, alcohol use or drug use. A routine sexual history should be taken at every physical, and may include questions about whether you are sexually active, numbers of sexual partners, sexual orientation, exposure to sexually transmitted diseases, birth control and safe sex practices. Your doctor may also ask you questions about whether you feel safe at home or in a current relationship, or whether you have ever been physically or emotionally abused. 

Don’t Feel Singled Out

9 / 10 Don’t Feel Singled Out

These are very routine questions that doctors generally ask all their patients. If you feel uncomfortable with a question, tell your doctor and he or she may be able to explain why they are asking and reassure you that you do not need to say anything you are not comfortable sharing. Your doctor will always keep what you tell him or her confidential, unless you give permission for him or her to share information with others or if he or she believes you may harm yourself or someone else. 

How Long Does It Take?

10 / 10 How Long Does It Take?

The length of routine physicals varies widely based on your specific health, whether your doctor knows you well, what tests or procedures are necessary and your doctor’s personal style. Generally expect a full history and exam to take somewhere between 15 to 45 minutes.

And you may be wondering how often you should schedule a physical. It depends on your health and what your doctor recommends. Always ask your doctor when you should schedule your next physical. 

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