Physical exams and preventive visits

You’re healthy – and you want to stay that way. So it’s important to see a primary care physician for a preventive care visit each year.

What are physical exams? Are they the same as preventive care visits? What is a yearly wellness visit? What is a primary care physician and how do you find one? We can help.

Learn more about preventive care

How often should I have a physical exam or preventive visit?

If you’re a healthy adult, you’ll likely only need to see a primary care physician once a year for a physical exam, also known as a preventive visit. If you’re managing a chronic condition, your primary care physician may need to see you more often. For young children, pregnant women or the elderly, doctor visits may need to be scheduled more frequently.

If you need specialized treatment, your primary care physician may recommend a specialist. If you’re enrolled in a Blue Cross health plan, you don’t need a referral to see a specialist.

What to expect at a preventive care visit

At your preventive visit, your primary care doctor will likely ask you about your current health, your family history, past illnesses and surgeries and chronic conditions to assess your health risk. He or she will also likely do a physical exam, such as checking your vital signs, listening to your heart and lungs with a stethoscope, checking your ears, eyes, throat, skin, abdomen etc.

In addition, your doctor may conduct screenings, specific to your age and gender, such as:

  • Children ages 0-5 - May include height/weight, immunizations and developmental screening
  • Children ages 6-12 - May include height/weight, immunizations and developmental assessment
  • Women - May include breast exam and Pap test
  • Adults - May include cholesterol test and colon cancer screening

Based on your risk, your doctor may make recommendations for a healthy lifestyle. Some services may not be covered when provided during a preventive visit, so ask your provider at the time of service or check with your health plan customer service.

How to prepare for your next physical exam

You’ll want to prepare for your physical exam by completing any forms in advance, making a list of medications you take regularly and identifying any additional questions and concerns.

Concerned about symptoms or confused about changes in your health? Ask questions like these:

  • What might be causing this problem?
  • What are the treatment options for addressing this problem?
  • What are the side effects of the medication you’re prescribing?
  • How will I know if the treatment is working?
  • When should I see you for follow-up?

What preventive care is covered and what does it cost?

Children and adults with health insurance have preventive care included as part of the federal Affordable Care Act (for plans effective on or after September 23, 2010). You can get information about covered preventive services at hhs.gov.

Medicare yearly wellness visits

If you’re on Medicare, you may be familiar with the terms "Welcome to Medicare visit" and "yearly wellness visit." Medicare pays for these visits; your Part B deductible does not apply.

Who are primary care physicians?

A primary care physician is a health care professional you see for a physical exam or preventive visit and the doctor you go to regularly for health care. Choose a doctor you trust and then see that same doctor over time so your health care is consistent and coordinated.

There are different types of primary care doctors:

  • General practice: Specialize in routine and preventive care
  • Family practice: Specialize in routine and preventive care for the family
  • Internists: Specialize in preventing and treating heart, lung and other adult conditions
  • Obstetrics/gynecologists: Specialize in pregnancy and women’s reproduction
  • Pediatricians: Specialize in treating children and adolescents, 18 years and younger
  • Geriatricians: Specialize in treating adults, 65 years and older

Seek primary health care for routine medical needs, such as:

  • Preventive visits, annual check-ups or sports physicals to detect health risks or diseases before they become bigger problems
  • Minor injuries, such as burns, bruises or blisters, that can wait until regular clinic hours
  • Minor illnesses, such as strep, ear infections, bladder infections or cold/flu symptoms
  • Allergy symptoms, rashes or skin infections
  • Vaccinations/immunizations
  • Medication management
  • Follow-up care after an illness or injury

How do I find a primary care doctor for a physical exam?

The Find a Doctor tool can help you easily find a doctor – in your network, in your neighborhood, and in the know about your health care concerns. Enter your location and specify primary care, then you'll see a list of primary care doctors. You'll need to choose your network to see doctors included in your health plan's network.