Physical examination or clinical examination (more popularly known as a check-up) is the process by which a doctor investigates 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.
A physical examination may be provided under health insurance cover, required of new insurance customers, or stipulated as a condition of employment. In the United States, physicals are also marketed to patients as a one-stop health review, avoiding the inconvenience of attending multiple appointments with different healthcare providers. Comprehensive physical exams of this type are also known as executive physicals, and typically include laboratory tests, chest x-rays, pulmonary function testing, audiograms, full body CAT scanning, EKGs, heart stress tests, vascular age tests, urinalysis, and mammograms or prostate exams depending on gender.
The executive physical format was developed from the 1970s by the Mayo Clinic and is now offered by other health providers.
While elective physical exams have become more elaborate, in routine use physical exams have become less complete. This has led to editorials in medical journals about the importance of an adequate physical examination. In addition to the possibility of identifying signs of illness, it has been described as a ritual that plays a significant role in the doctor-patient relationship. Physicians at Stanford University medical school have introduced a set of 25 key physical examination skills that were felt to be useful.