MARQUETTE - Though many people are uncomfortable in a doctor's office, experts say a regular trip can save a lot of trouble.
Physicals are often very simple, according to Bonnie Kilpela, a physician assistant at Negaunee Medical Associates - a Marquette General Hospital clinic.
Women, she said, should begin having pap smears at about 21 years old.
Maureen LaWent of Ishpeming visits physician assistant Larry Buege for a check-up at the Medical Care Access Coalition in Marquette. This care facility is a non profit that coordinates volunteered and donated medical care to the low income, uninsured in the county. (Journal photo by Matt Keiser)
"Men should have a physical when they want, or when they have something going on," Kilpela said. "But if your insurance covers it, a yearly physical is great for everybody."
A typical physical will include a review of prior medical, surgical and family history, with medical professionals keeping an eye out for chronic conditions.
It also includes the collection of vital signs - including blood pressure, temperature, height and weight - and a discussion period called a "review of systems."
During the review, a medical professional will ask the patient if there are any issues related to the eyes, ears, head, neck, throat and heart, or any troubles related to the musculoskeletal or gastrointestinal systems.
Physicals will also include brief exams of most of those systems and the opportunity to stay up-to-date on immunizations.
"The benefits are to prevent illness by doing things like immunizations, education about the importance of diet and exercise, and guidance regarding safety issues," Dr. Joel Dank, who has worked at the Marquette General Family Medicine Clinic in Negaunee for four years, said in an email.
Dank suggests patients have a yearly health maintenance exam and said they are often continuations of well-child exams that most kids get annually. Because of this, he said, there isn't exactly a starting age.
But the exams do change as patients age, according to Dank.
For women, breast and pelvic exams and pap smears usually start in their 20s, with mammograms beginning in their 40s. Young men usually undergo testicular exams, with colonoscopies beginning at about age 50. Yearly blood tests often begin at about age 35.
Dank said decisions on when to begin these tests are made on an individual basis and are dependent on a number of factors, including family history.
Discussions during physicals often turn toward health and wellness
Kilpela, who has worked in the area for 19 years, said she always discusses health and wellness with patients, including the need for healthy eating and regular exercise, in addition to limiting drinking and refraining from smoking.
"I think people are getting better," Kilpela said. "Overall, I think people are more involved in their health, which I think is the best way we could do it. I think people are actually being proactive, which is good."
Kyle Whitney can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250.