White House Flicker
En español | It's not often that you can peek into someone else's medical records — unless that person is president of the United States. Then you can find out facts such as President Barack Obama's total cholesterol number (213, a tad high) and that George W. Bush had some eye floaters (which could be meaningless or signal retinal problems). Fortunately, you don't have to work in the West Wing to receive that kind of medical attention.
More and more, executive — or comprehensive — physicals are marketed to those who want an all-in-one, full-day affair that covers far more than the typical 30-minute annual physical you might get from your regular doctor. Programs vary by institution (Cooper Clinic, Cleveland Clinic, UCLA, Duke and many other major hospitals offer them), and you could pay upward of $2,000 to $3,000 out of pocket for this (depending on your insurance and employer), so you'll want to learn what your insurance company covers. Check out a sampling of what such an exam might get you.
Comprehensive blood pressure readings
What this shows: Rather than getting a onetime measurement, you'll have your blood pressure taken throughout the day and in a variety of settings (not just when you start an exam, as with a standard physical).
Why this could help: Taking varied readings provides a more accurate picture of blood pressure and thus a clearer sense of what treatment might be necessary.
Blood test and urinalysis
What this shows: Along with the standard blood panel — looking at cholesterol, blood sugar and triglycerides — a comprehensive physical might include blood tests for vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids. A urinalysis will measure for glucose, protein, blood and other substances.
Why this could help: High cholesterol and triglycerides can flag potential heart problems, while blood sugar testing will indicate whether you're at risk for diabetes. Deficiencies in vitamin D are linked to cancer and other diseases. Omega-3 is important for overall brain health. Blood or protein in urine can indicate infection or disease.
What this shows: The old-fashioned once-over by a physician can discover lumps, bumps and internal or visible abnormalities.
Why this could help: Docs are trained to look for a multitude of problems. For instance, a weak pulse felt in the leg can be a sign of arterial disease, and an enlarged spleen can indicate an infection.
What this shows: Mammography, colon cancer screenings and PSA tests (for prostate cancer) can be administered to detect specific cancers, depending on your age, gender and risk factors. Some programs have optional total-body CT scans (typically at an extra cost).
Why this could help: Especially when you have a family history of cancer, these tests can provide an early diagnosis before symptoms appear. (Note: Some detractors think that ultra-early detection can lead to unnecessary treatments.)
What this shows: Body-fat percentage can indicate risk for diabetes and other obesity-related diseases.
Why this could help: A consultation with a nutritionist can help analyze your dietary habits and provide strategies for improving them.
What this shows: Health care experts will review your medical history, medications, vaccinations and overall lifestyle habits (diet, exercise, stress).
Why this could help: Docs, nutritionists, exercise specialists and mental health counselors work to identify potential pitfalls and offer solutions to head off problems.
What this shows: You may get gender-specific exams (such as a pelvic exam for women), age-specific ones (for example, a colonoscopy) and other diagnostics that would normally require visits to specialists. A skin exam can check for potential cancers, and a DEXA scan can determine bone density.
Why this could help: Tests can be done in one day that would otherwise require separate appointments and doctors.
What this shows: In addition to determining visual acuity, a physician looks into your eyes to check for glaucoma and macular degeneration, as well as to assess the health of your blood vessels.
Why this could help: New medications may help stop the spread of macular degeneration, one of the leading causes of blindness in older people. Plus, changes to blood vessels in the eyes can indicate hypertension that may need to be treated.
Strength and flexibility assessment
What this shows: Some programs have you perform tests that measure your strength (push-ups) and flexibility (toe touches), to indicate muscular ability.
Why this could help: A physical therapist can give you a program to help alleviate pain associated with joint or muscle issues, improve balance and enhance overall strength.
What this shows: An EKG test on a treadmill or bike will screen for coronary artery disease, high blood pressure and abnormal heart rhythms.
Why this could help: If you have a family history but no signs of heart disease, the stress test can show early indications of heart problems.
What this shows: Following your day of tests, the coordinating doctor will discuss all the results and offer plans of action. Also, you will receive a written report.
Why this could help: With all the parts in a comprehensive exam, having a medical expert synthesize findings can assist you in determining the overall state of your health.