When was your last annual physical exam? Is that important?
Asked Mr. Jones, a 64-year-old Veteran and former smoker of 30 years.
Having a physical saved his life.
After discussing his prior smoking habits, Mr. Jones received a CT exam that revealed a “highly suspicious” tumor in his lower right lung. The tumor turned out to be stage 1 lung cancer and was successfully removed surgically without the need for chemotherapy or radiation.
“I just wanted that tumor out of my body,” Mr. Jones said. “The screening saved my life.”
Discussing his personal and medical history saved Mr. Jones’ life. Veterans can use VA resources like MyHealtheVet to access their health records to prepare for an exam and message their care team securely with any questions they may have after an appointment.
Dr. Raya Kheirbek knows the old adage that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure is especially true when it comes to health care.
Dr. Kheirbek is an internist, geriatrician and essayist at the Washington DC VA Medical Center and an associate professor of medicine at George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences. As a primary care physician for VA, Dr. Kheirbek assists Veterans in maintaining their health and screening for various health risks through proper preventative care.
Preventative care focuses on maintaining proper health and preventing disease and an annual physical is vital to proper preventative care. An average physical can include things like:
- A comprehensive physical exam catered to a patient’s age, gender and specific risk factors
- A check for heart health
- Lung examination
- Skin screening
- Lab test, including blood count and cholesterol
- BMI (body mass index) testing
- Screenings for age and gender appropriate cancer risk factors.
One of the most important aspects of preventative care, according to Dr. Kheirbek, is the partnership between a physician and patient. Veterans can make the most out of their annual physicals by coming prepared with any questions they have about their health, being informed about their family medical history and researching their health conditions or risk factors.
“Don’t be intimidated to ask questions or get involved with your care,” Dr. Kheirbek urges, “After all, it’s your health and your body.”
Dr. Raya Kheirbek
Many patients are unaware that in addition to discussing physical issues, an annual physical exam also offers the opportunity to talk about any new or ongoing struggles with depression, PTSD, homelessness, drug dependency or an entire range of health-related issues.
“The VA system prompts clinicians to ask those important questions; on many occasions Veterans are screened positive and they are same day referred to mental health for further evaluation and management,” Dr. Kheirbek says. This is especially important as more and more research points to the association between emotional stress and physical illness.
In her own patients Dr. Kheirbek has seen the importance of physicals and preventative care. Mr. Jones was her patient.
Taylor Haas is an intern for Digital Media, VHA Office of Communications and a senior at UC Berkeley studying economics.