Preventive care is key to a healthier and more productive workforce. Take an active role in encouraging employees to get their annual physical exam.

As healthcare costs continue to increase, employers should take an active role in encouraging their employees to get an annual physical. One in five Americans put off healthcare during the pandemic, while chronic conditions like heart disease have been on the rise and are estimated to exceed $1 trillion in total healthcare spending by 2035.

During a physical examination, healthcare providers are looking for signs of heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and even cancer. By catching these conditions early, employees may be able to improve their health outcomes through lifestyle changes. Let’s explore what the annual physical process looks like and how it can benefit both employees and employers.

What’s Included in an Employee Physical Exam?

While it can vary, physical examinations typically consist of an assessment of the employee’s health history and current health status, a physical examination and follow-up steps as needed. Even when someone looks healthy, there could be something going on under the surface that could cause issues down the road. 

Silvia Madrigal, Family Nurse Practitioner and Marathon Health Regional Clinic Leader, says that physical examinations allow providers to obtain a comprehensive picture of the patient’s overall health. “Routine physical exams, help me identify health risks for my patients before they become complex health problems,” she says.

Annual Exams Include Employee Health History to Understand Risks

A physical or wellness visit usually kicks off with a medical provider or nurse asking an employee lifestyle questions about their health such as if they’re a smoker or how many times a week they exercise. They’ll also ask them questions about their family’s health history to identify any potential genetic issues to keep an eye on.

Other common questions include:

• A list of current medications and any recent medication changes (including over-the-counter)
• Any supplements they’re taking and the cadence at which they take them
• Their current vaccination status (examples include tetanus, shingles, flu and COVID-19)
• The date of their last preventive screening (examples include mammograms, colonoscopies or pelvic exams)
• Any current health concerns like chronic pain, digestive issues or behavioral health struggles

“Knowing the employee’s health history beforehand allows me to better address the areas of concern during the exam,” Madrigal says.

What Employees Can Expect from a Comprehensive Physical Exam

Once it’s time for the physical examination, employees can expect to have their blood pressure, heart rate, height, weight and respiration rate measured. Practitioners will then typically examine the lungs, neck and abdomen, and in some cases, they may also do a skin examination to check for any abnormalities.

“During the examination, I do a comprehensive exam from head to toe,” Madrigal says. “A physical exam is one of the few opportunities we get to look at the patient from a comprehensive approach. Things such as thyroid nodules can be palpated, irregular heartbeat detected, or find skin lesions that need further evaluation. At Marathon Health, we have the time to perform a comprehensive exam and a thorough action plan.”

Employee Annual Exams Should Include Next Steps, Goal Setting

Once the exam has been completed, the healthcare provider and employee will sit down and discuss anything that they feel should be followed up on, like ordering additional lab work or making a referral to see a specialist. This is also a good opportunity to discuss any goals or lifestyle changes the employee would like to make to improve their health.

That was the case for patient Charlotte Blue who discovered after completing her annual physical at her employer-sponsored Marathon Health center that she had high cholesterol and type 2 diabetes. She met with a health coach who helped her set goals including enrolling in a diabetes care management program where she learned how to make changes to her diet to improve her blood sugar levels. She was eventually able to reduce her cholesterol, improve her blood sugar level and lose 100 pounds. “I look and feel fabulous,” Blue says. “I made a lifestyle change and I love the improved me.”

“The combination of subjective and objective information, collected during the physical exam, directs my plan to address the areas of concern” Madrigal says. “For example, if the labs shows that my patient is pre-diabetic, I will recommend certain steps to prevent diabetes. The key to the action plan of the physical exam is to ensure the patient agrees and understands the steps to take. This is why I put so much emphasis on a collaborative approach. The patient needs to feel comfortable with the recommendation and feel empowered to execute the plan.”

Annual Physicals Help Reduce Employer Healthcare Costs

When employees regularly engage with preventive healthcare, employers also see a reduction in healthcare costs and the amount of time employees miss work. That’s why Madrigal says employers should encourage their workforce to engage with preventive care services.

“The value of using an annual physical exam in an incentive program is that practitioners have the opportunity to catch health issues before they become bigger and are harder to control,” Madrigal says. “When conditions go untreated, employees will often take make more trips to the ER and take more time off work which is going to be costly for their employer. Employees are less likely to leave a job if they feel that they’re being taken care of. Marathon Heath’s model allows me to spend more time with my patients which creates better outcomes for both them and their employer.”

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