Some time ago, a long overdue to be retired private doctor told me: ‘I have sick patients, my patients have heart attacks and strokes!’, implying that some of the younger generation private doctors all they do is looking after the worried well.
But is a better doctor the one who looks after your stroke or heart attack or cancer, or the one who stopped you getting it in the first place?

I look back at all the patients that I have looked after for the past 10-15 years. The ones who have had regular annual check ups had very little surprises coming their way.
Of course, an annual check up doesn’t prevent all illnesses, doesn’t identify everything as my next case goes to show.

I have known Patient AB for 8-9 years. He had annual check ups and in depth health risk assessments, and I thought I knew as much as possible about his risk factors. He was one of the healthiest patients ever. One day, I got a call from his wife that he was having a seizure. He was admitted as an emergency to UCL Hospital London. I explained to the doctors that there was no chance he would have suffered an ischemic stroke, given his detailed year-by-year health risk assessment.
Several CTs and MRI scans later, it turned out he had an inoperable aggressive brain tumour that was not identified on the early scans. One and a half years later, he turned out to be the first patient in the world deemed cured with immunotherapy in USA. This brings great joy to his family, friends and I. The annual check ups didn’t prevent this event happening but certainly helped in an emergency situation and when working out any other possibilities.

The above case reinforced 3 things to me:

  • the importance of annual check ups,
  • the fact that we can never be 100% certain of our future and that
  • certain cures are just not available in UK, doesn’t matter how much monies you are prepared to pay!

So what should you look for when planning for an annual check up?

  • A good doctor that believes in prevention
  • A personalized check-up. Most clinics offer standardized check ups; do take time and ask for a personalized programme and quote according to your needs if you have any
  • Meaningful feedback and reports versus long reports: you want to leave the doctor’s office clearly knowing what your ‘weak’ or ‘high risk’ areas are
  • The most important part in any medical is the history: a good doctor is the one who talks to you first and who may talk more than examining you! History is the key to identifying risk areas
  • Stick with the same doctor/ clinic. Medicals may vary from year to year and some years you may have more investigations than other. Comparative data is very important
  • A clear plan: how, what and how often should be checked
  • There is no such thing as a ‘scan head to toe’. Different scans or different tests are best for certain organs or bodily parts. But one must know what is looking for and you can only get that through a thorough history taking!

Wishing you a Happy 2017 and plan to keep yourself healthy for as long as possible!

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