Annual Exam vs. Sports Physical vs. Occupational Health Exam: What’s the Difference?

A review of the different types of exams you or your family may need

Reviewed by: Jeffrey Saniuk, MSN, RN, FNP-C, and Mica Guzman, Jr., MD, MS, CAQSM, DABFM
Written by: Lauryn Feil

We all know that paying a visit to your doctor for an annual checkup is important, but you may need more than just an annual wellness check depending on your occupation or involvement in sports and activities. Keep up with which exams and screenings you may need by reviewing the different types of exams UT Health Austin offers below:

Annual Wellness Exam

An annual wellness exam is a type of preventative care that focuses on maintaining your overall wellness and preventing health problems before they arise. Instead of waiting until you have a health issue, it’s recommended that you visit your physician annually for a checkup to make sure you’re still in good health, or to catch potential health problems in early stages. These exams are separate from other medical visits related to acute illnesses or injuries.

Your annual wellness exam may include the following:

  • A physical examination
  • Vitals check
  • BMI check
  • Examination of personal and family medical histories
  • Discussion of current lifestyle and health choices
  • Necessary screenings
  • Shots and immunizations
  • Establishing a long-term plan for your health

Screenings may vary depending on age, risk, and gender. During your wellness exam you may receive a cholesterol, blood pressure, diabetes, mammogram, pap smear, osteoporosis, or STD screening.

Your doctor may ask you about current stress, physical activity, diet, or drug use, such as tobacco and alcohol. Much of the exam is a discussion about ways to improve overall health through lifestyle and healthy decision making. It’s important to be as honest as you can with your care provider because accurate information helps you and your clinician work together for the best possible health outcomes.

Medicare Wellness Visit

Similar to an annual wellness exam, a Medicare wellness visit is focused on preventing disease and disability but does not typically cover diagnosis and treatment of conditions you may have. Your doctor will work with you on developing a personalized prevention care plan based on your current health and risk factors. People eligible for this type of annual exam include those who have had Medicare Part B (medical insurance) for over 12 months.

At the first Medicare wellness visit, you will likely fill out a health risk assessment questionnaire and review your family and personal medical history with a healthcare professional. The healthcare professional will typically create a schedule spanning the next decade of mammograms, colonoscopies, and other screenings you may need and evaluate you for cognitive problems and depression as well as any risks of injuries or other safety issues.

Your Medicare wellness visit may include the following:

  • A review of your medical and family history
  • Developing or updating a list of current providers and prescriptions
  • Height, weight, blood pressure, and other routine measurements
  • Detection of any cognitive impairment
  • Personalized health advice
  • A list of risk factors and treatment options for you
  • A screening schedule (i.e. a checklist) for appropriate preventive services
  • Advance care planning with beneficiaries

Sports Physical

A sports physical, known in the medical field as a pre-participation physical examination (PPE), helps to determine whether or not a child, or adult, is physically able to participate in a sport safely. Anyone starting a new exercise routine or sport is recommended to first talk to a healthcare professional and sports physicals offer an easy way to do that.

It’s important to note that a sports physical does not take the place of a regular annual wellness checkup because sports physicals focus on the health history that may have a direct impact on a person’s ability to play a sport. While a sports physical does typically cover much of what happens during an annual exam, it is still important to schedule a separate annual checkup in addition to any physicals that may be required for participation in sports.

Most states require all student athletes to complete a sports physical before participating in any school-sanctioned sport. However, non-student athletes playing in club or recreational sports may also be required to pass a sports physical before they’re eligible to hit the field or storm the court.

Sports physicals consist of a medical history review and physical examination.

The medical history review includes questions about:

  • Serious illnesses among family members
  • Illnesses you had when you were younger or may have now (i.e., asthma, diabetes, or epilepsy)
  • Previous hospitalizations or surgeries
  • Allergies (i.e., to insect bites)
  • Past injuries (i.e., concussions, sprains, or bone fractures)
  • History of passing out, dizzy spells, chest pain, or trouble breathing during exercise
  • Any medications you are currently taking (i.e., over-the-counter medications, herbal supplements, and prescription medications)

The physical examination typically includes:

  • Recording your height and weight
  • Taking your blood pressure and pulse
  • Testing your vision
  • Checking your heart, lungs, abdomen, ears, nose, and throat
  • Evaluating your posture, joints, strength, and flexibility

Occupational Health Exam

An occupational health exam, or a pre-employment health screening, are terms used to describe a variety of employee health screenings required by employers. The primary purpose is to prevent work-related injuries and illnesses. Occupational health exams are most commonly used to determine whether an individual is physically suited for a particular job.

Some jobs require special physical ability, such as those that involve heavy lifting or other physical exertion (i.e. firefighters). Employee health screenings can also identify pre-existing conditions which make an employee more susceptible to the effects of hazardous substances or other risks on the job.

Occupational health checks can be required at various stages of the employment, often starting before a new hire is assigned to a particular job. These health screenings are generally used for the following purposes:

  • To establish whether potential employees are able to meet the physical requirements of the job prior to assignment
  • To monitor health status at periodic intervals when the job involves exposure to potential health hazards
  • To establish that employees are able to return to work after a prolonged absence for health reasons
  • To establish the conditions under which employees with illnesses, injuries, or disabilities are able to continue working

Your occupational health exam may include the following:

  • A review of your medical and occupational history
  • A physical exam
  • Drug test or other lab work
  • An evaluation of functional tasks, such as lifting, carrying, pushing, and pulling, or other requirements from your employer.

About UT Health Austin

UT Health Austin, the group practice designed and managed by the faculty and staff of the Dell Medical School, focuses the expertise of a team of experienced medical professionals to deliver personalized, whole-person care of uncompromising quality. Our experienced healthcare professionals treat each patient as an individual with unique circumstances, priorities, and beliefs. Working with you, your care team creates an individualized care plan to help you reach the goals that matter most to you — in the care room and beyond. For more information, call us at 1-833-UT-CARES or request an appointment here.