These days, it’s very common to come across packages of health check-ups offered to people. They come in many categories like, ‘General’ or ‘Executive’ or ‘Gold, Ruby, Platinum, Titanium’, the list goes on. How can a normal person with no knowledge in the medical area choose the most appropriate checkups to be done for him/her? A rigid package of health checkups is usually not a wise thing to do. Let’s explore the untold stories behind any health packages.
Hospitals, banks, and even corporate companies now offer health check-ups in a fixed package of 30/50/100/200 tests. People do accept the offers happily thinking they are the most vital. For example, a ‘general’ or ‘executive’ or ‘ruby-gold-platinum’ health check-ups may consist of detailed liver function tests, renal function tests, ECHO, chest Xrays, stress tests, etc. The problem is that people are not aware all packages may not suit each and every person. There are few basic tests that are common to every individual but other than that, the nature of tests varies depending on the gender, age, etc. The set of check-ups for a young adult will be different from a man who is 60 yrs. There are around 100 to 200 risk factors associated with a man, woman, or non-smoker, athletic. And surprisingly the parameters for those will be ‘urine color’, ‘urine temperature’, ‘urine appearance’ etc. Another important factor is to decide which lab/hospital to go to. The credentials of the lab/hospital and the people who do the test are always important.
The risk factors associated with some tests, such as in the case of Xray or stress ECG tests should be kept in mind before anyone go to get checked up. Most importantly some tests should be done only for a good reason. For example, RA factor, ASO, PSA, CEA, cancer markers, etc should be done only after consulting with a doctor. If one does it ‘just like that’, and it comes out as positive, and you are not having any related symptoms or risk factors, how would you interpret it? There will be patients who panic at each and every positive lab result who don’t know a thing about it. It may cause needless, avoidable anxiety. Interpretation of lab tests is an art that qualified doctors to hone over the years. Things are not always straight-forward in medicine.
Do NOT interpret lab results if you DON’T know what to do about them.
Here comes the importance of consulting a doctor before you go for checkups.
You share your past medical history, discuss your lifestyle and family history of diseases in detail. You can thus, discuss your personal health-related concerns and clear any doubts about diseases, risks, and tests. If there is a specific test you wish to do, you may frankly say so. This is followed by a systematic physical examination. Then, based on your age, sex, lifestyle, social factors, family history, past medical history, and the physical examination findings, the doctor will discuss what all your risk factors are. Some risk factors can even be objectively quantified. Based on these, you may be prescribed tests which you may both feel are necessary. Sounds perfect right?
Now, are you thinking about how this is going to benefit you? You don’t have to do tests which are almost surely not necessary for you. The cost associated with ‘routine’ health checks come down significantly. For example, if you are a 35-year-old lady who has a healthy lifestyle and no risk factors for heart disease, you don’t need to undergo an X-ray, ECHO, or stress test. Instead, if there is a likelihood of breast cancer, investigations can be planned accordingly. Thus, many tests such as ‘routine’ X rays, Liver/Kidney function tests, etc can be avoided if there is no risk factor for such diseases at such an age. The resources can instead be diverted towards detecting issues that may be uniquely relevant to you, if needed.
Another thing to be kept in mind is that unfortunately, medical science is not perfect. There are innumerable unexplained mysteries in the human body. Even if all tests possible are done, still there remains a possibility that diagnoses can be missed in a small number of people. The Doctors’ advice is based on your discussions, current scientific medical evidence and clinical judgment. It focuses more on what is likely to be discovered, rather than casting a ‘net’ of investigations over a person and waiting for disease probabilities.
Remember: THE MOST IMPORTANT COMPONENT OF A HEALTH-CHECK IS NOT LAB REPORTS, BUT A DISCUSSION WITH YOUR DOCTOR.
And let this point be clear: Detecting diabetes, and managing it early with diet, exercise, and simple medicines are much safer, not expensive, and does not cause as much suffering as managing diabetes-related kidney disease, diabetes-related blindness, or a diabetes-related heart-attack does. The same holds true for any disease.
Discuss with your doctor, and YOU decide. Make sure your doctor knows YOU, and not only about your disease. Do not hesitate to check the doctor’s credentials. And yes, please be polite with healthcare workers. It helps in ways you may never realize. Most often, with such a doctor monitoring your well-being from time to time, your expenses will remain low, and peace of mind will be much greater.
Feeling healthy and feeling good about yourself is not a luxury – it’s an absolute necessity. Embrace your health.
Consultant – Family Medicine, Preventive Health & Wellness
MBBS, DNB(Family Medicine), MRCGP(INT), MNAMS, Founder-President, Academy of Family Physicians of India(Kerala Chapter)