Annual checkups establish a baseline that can improve your patient safety

With all of the COVID-19 stuff floating around this year, I’ve been thinking how it would be a good idea for me to practice what I preach and schedule some doctors’ appointments to establish a baseline for my health.

In medicine, a baseline is a reference point for comparison.

In a hospital setting, for example, a registered nurse will do a head to toe assessment of a new patient and document findings in the medical record. When the same nurse, or a nurse on a new shift, makes reassessments, there should be comparison of the current findings to the original baseline. This allows accurate monitoring of whether a patient is getting better, getting worse, or staying the same.

The idea is the same for office visits with a physician. Having an annual physical and checkup with the same doctor is ideal for adults of all ages because it allows easy comparison to the prior year’s findings.

Primary care providers, such as family practice or internal medicine physicians, frequently do this type of evaluation to look, at a minimum, things including vital signs (temperature, blood pressure, and pulse/heart rate), physical exam (eyes, ears, throat, abdomen, and listening to the heart, lungs, and bowels), and  basic neurologic exam. A primary care doctor may also order routine blood work such as a complete blood count and basic metabolic panel.

For women, additional diagnostic and preventive tests are recommended, including a mammogram for breast cancer screening. When patients are in their 40s and 50s, medical experts recommend additional preventative testing, including prostate-specific antigen (PSA) testing for men for prostate cancer screening, and colonoscopies and heart/cardiac workups for men and women.

Today, I visited with a cardiologist to have a first-ever baseline evaluation of my heart and cardiac system health. As with any health care provider, it’s important to find someone whom you trust.  This cardiologist is someone I’ve gotten to know through working together in a case where he was an expert witness. I trust his competence, professionalism, and advice.

My cardiology appointment was a simple appointment. A nurse ran a short EKG and took vital signs. Then the cardiologist listened to my heart with the stethoscope.

We chatted about a relatively new screening exam that he’s started to recommend to his patients. It’s called a Cardiac CT for Calcium Scoring. It’s a non-invasive diagnostic radiographic scan that identifies calcified plaque in the coronary arteries. Many cardiologists recommend it for patients who have no abnormal cardiac symptoms, but have an increased risk for coronary artery disease (CAD) due to being a smoker, family history, high blood pressure (hypertension), high cholesterol, being overweight or obese, and/or being physically inactive.

Perhaps the most interesting topic that we discussed, though, wasn’t directly related to cardiology. It was about how some surgeons are overly-aggressive at recommending surgical procedures to patients.

As the saying goes, “If your only tool is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” I commented how I’ve handled a lot of cases where a patient was severely injured during a surgery that wasn’t even needed in the first place. But how could a patient know whether a proposed surgery is really needed or not—is there any other way?

The cardiologist replied that he always recommends that is a surgical option or recommendation is on the table, a patient should seek at least two opinions on how to proceed. One opinion is from a surgeon. The other opinion is from a medical doctor (non-surgeon). If the surgeon isn’t pushing or surgery, that’s good to know. So, too, is the situation where a medical doctor is advocating for surgery. At a minimum, though, you’ll hear two different perspectives that will be useful and important to you in deciding on which way you’d like to proceed.

You can improve your safety as a patient by establishing relationships with a primary care physician and age and gender appropriate specialists. Then schedule annual check-ups to establish a health care baseline that will help them spot when something changes.

It’s sad to see patients who are responsible, conscientious, and compliant in their healthcare, but are still misdiagnosed by Texas doctors. If that happens to you or someone you care for, then contact an experienced, top-rated Houston, Texas medical malpractice lawyer to discuss your potential case.

Robert Painter
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Robert Painter

Robert Painter is an award-winning medical malpractice attorney at Painter Law Firm Medical Malpractice Attorneys in Houston, Texas. He is a former hospital administrator who represents patients and family members in medical negligence and wrongful death lawsuits all over Texas. Contact him for a free consultation and strategy session by calling 281-580-8800 or emailing him right now.