Why Your Annual Physical Is Important and What To Expect

December 17, 2019

Clinical Contributors to this Story

Dimitri Cefalu, M.D.

By Danielle Schipani

A physical exam is usually free to get when insured, great for preventative health and should absolutely be done once a year. In fact, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation 92% of U.S. residents say it is important to get an annual physical exam – yet only 62% report actually getting them!

So what’s the deal? Are regular check-ups really that important? The answer – yes of course!

Why are regular check-ups important?

One of the great benefits of a wellness exam is having the opportunity to pick up on problems before they become serious. Dimitri Cefalu, M.D., an internist at Hackensack Meridian Health Medical Group explained, “Annual wellness exams are critical to the well-being of every patient. They give clinicians the unique opportunity to see what their patient’s lifestyle is like and to talk about how they are feeling physically and mentally.”

Dr. Cefalu pointed out that these conversations are important to have, and that these issues are not typically discussed when patients come in for a typical sick visit.

What are the most common things checked at a wellness visit?

Many practices are focused on early diagnosis of lipid abnormalities which could be a tell sign of cardiovascular disease or other heart conditions.

Diabetes can also be screened for during an annual physical. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 90 percent of patients don’t know they have prediabetes. “You need to know this early to get them on the right diet and the right lifestyle,” explained Dr. Cefalu.

Annual exams typically also check:

  • Weight
  • Blood pressure
  • Temperature
  • Head and neck exam
  • Lung sounds
  • Abdominal exam
  • Skin check

There is the opportunity to go through an individual’s familial medical history to determine if there are any hereditary concerns. “There are a whole bunch of preventative health interventions that are related to a person’s family history,” he says. “One of the most common ones is colon cancer, there is a very strong generic component there and it’s important to know this early so colonoscopies can be scheduled.”

How can a patient prepare for a wellness appointment?

Preparation is key when coming to an internist or primary care clinician. Here are a few things you show have handy:

  • Family health history
  • List of all medications and supplements with dosage
  • Names of doctors and other members of your healthcare team
  • Immunization records
  • Name and location of your current pharmacy
  • Any medical or smart health equipment you are currently using

In general, some of the misperception of a wellness exam is that people don’t know what to expect. “Setting expectations is important for the support staff. Patients should be encouraged to research what a wellness visit is,” says Cefalu.

When it comes to a wellness exam, honesty is the best policy. “Overall the most important thing is to be honest and up front about your health with your clinician,” says Cefalu.


Dr. Cefalu is a physician at Hackensack Meridian Health Medical Group, a network of more than 1,000 physicians and advanced providers at over 300 practices throughout New Jersey. Our care network can help you better manage your health. Visit HMHMedicalGroup.org to find a practice near you.

Dr. Cefalu is currently practicing at Hackensack Meridian Health Medical Group – Primary Care – Oakhurst and accepting new patients. To make an appointment, please call 732-531-5509.

The material provided through HealthU is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician for individual care.