Dr. Joseph Rucker
Dennis Auth, DO





The value of Annual Exams

Dennis Auth, DO
Family Practice
Pine Grove Family Practice
Eau Claire

I have been in Eau Claire for a little more than two years and as I have continued to gain additional experiences within the medical profession, I often think back to where my focus on wellness began.

Prior to coming to Eau Claire, I was a Flight Surgeon in the U.S. Navy. The title is somewhat more glamorous than the actual job. While I did get to fly, essentially I was a primary care physician for naval aviators, as well as the base support personnel. I managed the medical needs for pilots, student naval aviators, air traffic controllers, corpsmen and firefighters. I and my fellow flight docs would see service members in clinic for basic complaints like coughs, colds and backaches. These clinic visits made up the main part of our clinical responsibilities, but another responsibility was performing annual physicals.

All Navy personnel on flight status were required to have an annual physical exam. They were required to schedule the exam in either their birth month or the month prior. There was an operational and safety reason for these exams. We would check for changes in vision, screen for blood pressure elevation and review any changes in their overall health status. One can understand the value in this screening process. Who would want a pilot entrusted with the lives of several crew members landing on an aircraft carrier at night with less than 20/20 vision or elevated blood pressure?

But the value of these visits went beyond these safety benefits. With these exams we were also able to discover other medical issues and problems that might have gone unnoticed or undiagnosed.

During my three and a half years performing annual physicals, we diagnosed cases of testicular cancer, early cervical cancer, lymphoma, diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease, substance abuse issues and depression. Through proper screening we discovered pilots with hypo-thyroidism, celiac sprue and lipid abnormalities among others. This undoubtedly allowed us to get the service member the proper treatment in a timely manner. I was repeatedly reminded of the importance of an annual checkup in this young and mostly healthy population.

But just as it was important for these pilots, I feel it is important for the general population. We often feel that we don’t have the time to make an appointment for a yearly exam. We might be too busy with work or family responsibilities. Or we might feel that nothing is wrong. Some of us might take the approach – if it isn’t broken then it doesn’t need fixing. But many health problems have no signs or symptoms at all and with these medical problems screening is our only tool.

For all patients the annual exam allows for screening for high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease and diabetes. The visit might also involve a discussion on healthy lifestyles which includes a healthy diet, exercise, quitting smoking, moderate alcohol consumption and colon cancer screening. Immunizations can be reviewed and updated as necessary. In addition, for women, it might involve discussing breast cancer screening and screening for cervical cancer. For men it might involve a discussion on prostate cancer screening.

It also serves as an opportunity to discuss any nagging concern that you might have. Like, is it normal that I am getting up several times every night to go to the bathroom? My mother had breast cancer, should I be screened differently because of this? My friend just developed lung cancer, I need help quitting smoking, can you help? These would all be legitimate questions and concerns.

As a community physician, just as when I was in the Navy, my ultimate goal is to promote optimal health and well-being in my patients. As I grow in my practice, I plan to continually emphasize the importance of annual exams and hope to create more awareness of their benefits.

Dr. Dennis Auth – Pine Grove Family Practice
For information or to schedule an appointment:
715-834-2788 | www.oakleafmedical.com
Dr. Auth sees patients in Eau Claire.