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Virtual Physical Exam

written by Tessa Chatham Registered Nurse Written by Tessa Chatham Registered Nurse
Tessa Chatham Registered Nurse

Tessa Chatham Registered Nurse

Tessa is a MSN prepared Registered Nurse with 10 years of critical care experience in healthcare. When not practicing clinical nursing, she enjoys academic writing and is passionate about helping those affected by medical aliments live healthy lives.

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October 25, 2021 Read Time - 7 minutes

What is the Purpose of an Annual Physical Exam?

The purpose of a physical exam is preventative care, as well as chronic disease management. A complete physical examination can help find abnormalities and understand their clinical significance. A physical exam is an evaluation done by a doctor and includes observation, palpation, percussion, and auscultation of various organ systems in your body.

You can complete physical exams at any doctor’s office or clinic. As the environment can affect the physical examination quality, it is important to complete your physical exam in a quiet and comfortable atmosphere.

  • Book on our free mobile app or website.

    Our doctors operate in all 50 states and same day appointments are available every 15 minutes.

  • See a doctor, get treatment and a prescription at your local pharmacy.

  • Use your health insurance just like you normally would to see your doctor.

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What Is Included In an Annual Physical Exam?

An annual physical exam includes information gathering related to your medical history, complaints, and physical assessment. 

Many physicians “start the physical exam as patients walk into the room” in order to gauge the patient’s “functional performance.” After this initial assessment, most doctors assess a pattern of physical functions:

  • The doctor will gather your vital signs, including your blood pressure, pulse, oxygen saturation, and temperature. 
  • The doctor will probably ask questions to assess your overall well-being. 
  • A skin assessment will be completed to look for any unusual bruising, rashes, or swelling.
  • The doctor will then check your head, eyes, ears, nose, and throat and assess your vision, hearing, sense of smell, observe your throat and ability to swallow. 
  • The doctor will assess your neck for any issues with rotation, or signs of heart problems such as jugular vein distention. 
  • The doctor will then assess your lungs, heart, abdomen, musculoskeletal/neurological function, and extremities.

Physical examinations also generally include health tests, such as blood tests and recommended cancer screening tests. These regular health tests can help find problems at very early stages before they cause damage in your body. These annual tests are vital because they act as preventative care, and are felt to be the most important component of an annual health visit with your doctor. 

It is important to note that Annual Preventive Health Screenings are gradually replacing the Annual Physical Examination, especially for someone who is generally healthy.

Almost all of the most highly recommended annual health screenings done at a brick-and-mortar doctor’s office can be performed virtually (other than Pap smears for cervical cancer, which are typically referred to Obstetrician-Gynecologists, and Mammograms, which are always referred to imaging centers and not done in the primary care physician’s office.)

What Questions Do Doctors Ask During a Physical?

Doctors will ask many questions during a physical exam to paint a clinical picture of the patient’s health. Your overall health status is determined by asking questions about past illnesses, diagnoses, and surgical procedures.

You will also discuss family medical history, as many diseases can be passed down from one generation to the next. You will also discuss your social history in relation to your lifestyle, work, and coping mechanisms.

Doctors will often ask if you use tobacco in any form, drink alcohol, or use illicit drugs, as all of these can have significant health consequences. It is essential always to be honest with your doctor so that they may direct specific clinical tests or treatments for proper patient care. 

The doctor may also ask about diet, physical activity, sleep habits, stressors, housing, transportation, safety, and mood. The patient will also be asked about prescription and over-the-counter medications that are being taken, as well as any vaccinations they have received.

What Should I Do Before My Annual Physical?

Before your annual physical, you should write down questions that you have for the doctor. Write down all of the questions you have. Every question you have is essential, and be sure also to review and gather information on your family history so that you are prepared to answer these types of questions. 

If you are doing a virtual wellness visit, it may be beneficial to purchase a thermometer, automatic blood pressure cuff, and a portable oxygen monitor (Sp02 monitor). You can order these items online or at any grocery or drug store. 

You can also look into digital wearables such as smartwatches. Digital wearable devices can monitor blood pressure, heart rate, and even an electrocardiogram. This information can be gathered during your virtual visit so that the doctor can add this information to your assessment.

What Blood Tests Are Done During a Routine Physical?

Complete blood count and chemistry blood tests are typically done during a routine physical. These blood tests can indicate if you have kidney, liver, blood chemistry, or immune system issues. Other specialized blood tests may be performed after you speak with your doctor about your health. 

Some specialized blood tests that may be collected during a routine physical include iron studies, thyroid tests, cardiac enzymes, liver enzymes, or tests for diabetes.

How Much Does a Physical Exam Cost?

The national average of a physical exam without insurance is $199. However, this amount changes depending on other variables such as insurance, Medicaid, Medicare, and other company promotions. 

Keep in mind, these prices can vary depending on where you live, and expenses can increase if you get lab tests or x-rays. Annual exams without insurance vary in cost. 

Should a person not have health insurance, they can expect to pay at least $50-$200 for their annual physical examination. 

At PlushCare, a virtual wellness visit may be more affordable than an in-person appointment.

  • Book on our free mobile app or website.

    Our doctors operate in all 50 states and same day appointments are available every 15 minutes.

  • See a doctor, get treatment and a prescription at your local pharmacy.

  • Use your health insurance just like you normally would to see your doctor.

PlushCare-App-Steps

Virtual Annual Wellness Visit at PlushCare

A Virtual Annual Wellness Visit at PlushCare includes all of the same screening tests done at a traditional doctor’s office. A Virtual Annual Wellness Visit at PlushCare includes a head-to-toe virtual physical exam. The virtual physical exam is done via visual inspection, patient-entered data like vital signs, and physician-guided self-palpation by the patient. It is helpful for the patient to have their own blood pressure cuff and other monitoring devices to use during the visit.

If Virtual Annual Wellness Visits are done regularly and the patient and physician do not have concerns, an in-person Annual Physical Examination is generally felt to not be necessary.

Here are some instances where an actual in-person physical exam is necessary:

  • Exams for administrative purposes (DOT exams, CDL exams, workers compensation exams, or disability exams where the type of disability is physical)
  • New, unusual, or severe symptoms like chest pain or difficulty breathing
  • Any evaluation that may require a biopsy or tissue sample (such as a suspicious mole that is enlarging or changing color)

How Can I Book an Appointment Online for a Virtual Annual Wellness Visit?

You can book a Virtual Wellness Visit appointment online through the PlushCare website or mobile app. You can select the physician of your choice and view each doctor’s credentials, such as where they graduated medical school and what clinical area they specialize in, making it easy to get to know your doctor. Once you have selected the appointment, you will create a profile and complete the booking.

Virtual Annual Wellness Visit appointments are now available through telehealth platforms and provide primary and mental health treatment when you need it. At PlushCare, you can get personalized, high-quality healthcare from some of the top doctors throughout the country, all from the ease of your smartphone. Our highly skilled doctors have an impressive average of 15 years of experience. Visit our app or website to schedule your appointment today.


PlushCare can provide an “annual wellness visit” to online patients. An annual wellness visit is not the same as a physical exam, which needs to be done by an in-person medical doctor.

PlushCare cannot provide physical exams, DOT physical exams, or workers’ compensation physical exams, though our doctors can provide lab test orders if needed.


Read More About Online Doctor Visits


Sources:

PlushCare is dedicated to providing you with accurate and trustworthy health information.

Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. STATISTICAL BRIEF #318: Expenses and Characteristics of Physician Visits in Different Ambulatory Care Settings, 2008. Accessed on February 22, 2021 from https://meps.ahrq.gov/data_files/publications/st318/stat318.shtml

Benziger, C. P., Huffman, M. D., Sweis, R. N., & Stone, N. J. (2021). The Telehealth Ten: A Guide for a Patient-Assisted Virtual Physical Examination. The American journal of medicine, 134(1), 48–51. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.amjmed.2020.06.015

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020). Doctor visits and getting medicines. Accessed on February 23, 2021 from https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/daily-life-coping/doctor-visits-medicine.html 

U.S. National Library of Medicine. The American Journal of Medicine. The Telehealth Ten: A Guide for a Patient-Assisted Virtual Physical Examination. Accessed on February 23, 2021 from  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7368154/

Most PlushCare articles are reviewed by M.D.s, Ph.Ds, N.P.s, nutritionists and other healthcare professionals. Click here to learn more and meet some of the professionals behind our blog. The PlushCare blog, or any linked materials are not intended and should not be construed as medical advice, nor is the information a substitute for professional medical expertise or treatment. For more information click here.

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