Physical examinations or clinical examinations is the process by which we investigate the body of a patient for signs of disease. It generally follows the taking of the medical history – an account of the symptoms as experienced by the patient. Together with the medical history, the physical examination aids in determining the correct diagnosis and devising the treatment plan. This data then becomes part of the medical record.
Types of Physicals
Adult Annual Physical Examinations
Pre-Operative Physical Examinations
Sports Pre-Participation Physical Exams (PPE)
Although we have varying approaches as to the sequence of body parts, a systematic examination generally starts at the head and finishes at the extremities. After the main organ systems have been investigated by inspection, palpation, percussion and auscultation, specific tests may follow (such as a neurological investigation, orthopedic examination) or specific tests when a particular disease is suspected.
With the clues obtained during the history and physical examination the we can now formulate a differential diagnosis, a list of potential causes of any symptoms you may be experiencing. Specific diagnostic tests (or occasionally empirical therapy) generally confirm the cause, or shed light on other, previously overlooked, causes.
A complete physical examination includes evaluation of general patient appearance and specific organ systems. It is recorded in the medical record in a standard layout which facilitates others later reading the notes. In practice the vital signs of temperature examination, pulse and blood pressure are usually measured first.