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A physical examination is an evaluation of the body and its functions using inspection, palpation (feeling
The annual physical examination has been replaced by the periodic health examination. How often this is done depends on the patient's age, sex, and risk factors for disease. The United States Preventative Services Task Force (USPSTF) has developed guidelines for preventative health examinations that health care professionals widely follow. Organizations that promote detection and prevention of specific diseases, like the American Cancer Society, generally recommend more intensive or frequent examinations.
A comprehensive physical examination provides an opportunity for the health care professional to obtain baseline information about the patient for future use, and to establish a relationship before problems happen. It provides an opportunity to answer questions and teach good health practices. Detecting a problem in its early stages can have good long-term results.
The patient should be comfortable and treated with respect throughout the examination. As the examination procedes, the examiner should explain what he or she is doing and share any relevant findings.
A complete physical examination usually starts at the head and proceeds all the way to the toes. However, the exact procedure will vary according to the needs of the patient and the preferences of the examiner. An average examination takes about 30 minutes. The cost of the examination will depend on the charge for the professional's time and any tests that are done. Most health plans cover routine physical examinations including some tests.
First, the examiner will observe the patient's appearance, general health, and behavior, along with measuring height and weight. The vital signs—including pulse, breathing rate, body temperature, and blood pressure— are recorded.
With the patient sitting up, the following systems are reviewed:
Then while the patient is lying down on the examining table, the examination includes:
The head should be slightly raised for:
The patient should lie flat for:
In addition to evaluating the patient's alertness and mental ability during the initial conversation, additional inspection of the nervous system may be indicated:
Author Info: Karen Ericson RN, The Gale Group Inc., Gale, Detroit, Gale Encyclopedia of Medicine, 2002
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