Every doctor's visit should include a physical exam: a hands-on examination. In a well-child or annual adult physical, the examination should include most of the body. For example, the doctor will look in the eyes and ears, palpate (feel) the abdomen, listen to the lungs and heart, and check the condition and color of the skin. Sometimes the physical exam will be shorter and more focused; if the problem is a cold, the doctor will focus on areas related to the symptoms, such as the throat and nose.
The interval for physical exams depends on age. Adults usually need a physical exam every year or two. Children are developing rapidly, especially in the first five years. A newborn should be seen at four weeks, six to eight weeks and then every three months until age two. By the time the child is three, exams are recommended once a year. A patient with a chronic disease may need more frequent visits and exams. Seniors need more periodic exams to manage their chronic medical conditions.
Some components are the same for all ages. For example, obtaining the patient's weight is the norm at all ages. However, infants and children usually have their height measured at each visit, while adults only need this once a year. A woman might need a pelvic examination, while a man may need a rectal examination. Children routinely have vision and hearing screens as part of their examinations, while adults are more likely to see specialists for these examinations.
In addition to routine examinations, doctors may perform sports physicals. The focus of these examinations is to assure the child can play safely. A sports physical is not a full examination, and the child should still have a regular well-child check-up. School physicals focus on school readiness and overall health; they are more comprehensive than a sports physical. Work fitness exams assess the patient's ability to do a particular job, and driver's exams focus on the ability to drive safely.
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