The past few decades have seen numerous calls to eliminate the annual physical examination. In 1979, the Canadian Task Force on the Periodic Health Examination recommended “that the annual checkup, as practised almost ritualistically for several decades in North America, be abandoned.” In 2013, as part of the Choosing Wisely campaign, the Society of General Internal Medicine recommended against annual preventive examinations in asymptomatic patients.
Nevertheless, about one third of U.S. adults receive an annual physical (also called an annual preventive exam or periodic health exam) in any given year, and that trend has not abated. This ongoing practice is not surprising, since…
In the medical community, however, experts are divided on whether there is a benefit to getting an annual exam. Some research has shown regular physicals don’t reduce rates of illness or mortality and are a waste of health-care resources. They also could be harmful, for example, when false positives result in additional, unnecessary testing.
Other experts say a yearly checkup is an important part of building a physician-patient relationship and can lead to unexpected diagnoses such as of melanoma and depression.
No one questions the importance of regular exams for well babies, children and pregnant women, and the protective value of specific exams, like a Pap smear for sexually active women and a colonoscopy for people over 50. But arguments against the annual physical for all adults have been fueled by a growing number of studies that failed to find a medical benefit.
Proponents of yearly pelvic exams may say that they compel women to seek counsel from their doctors and receive vital information about their own health. (They also, of course, bolster gynecologists' job security.) But it's becoming clear that this line of thinking is self-defeating: There’s no reason for women to report to their doctors every year if they can’t even trust what they’re being told.
I would argue, then, that glib dismissal is misguided. Rather, the safest and most promising option in the absence of answers to all relevant questions, is to optimize the annual exam, not discard it. There is no need for a battery of perfunctory procedures or ridiculously low-yield lab tests. But these could be replaced with a review of lifestyle practices and use of relevant preventive services; with time for pertinent, customized lifestyle counseling...
A real physical will look more comprehensively at body chemistry.
What’s the best place for young men’s health care? Planned Parenthood.
Yet another pillar of conventional preventive-health wisdom is crumbling. On Tuesday, a federal panel of medical experts announced that it has found an insufficient amount of evidence to support annual pelvic exams for healthy women who aren’t pregnant.
For many doctors, the physical exam is a perfunctory exercise we perform on our patients because that’s what we were taught to do. Rarely, have I discovered something critically wrong with one of my patients during a well visit. But more than anything, shouldn’t we be focusing on preventative health care instead of discouraging patients to see their doctor annually? Aside from the unnecessary blood tests, over-prescribed medications and needless radiological scans, what’s so wrong with fostering this basic human interaction?
In the technology-thick landscape of modern health care, the physical exam remains in a backwoods.
Sure, there have been advances—blood-pressure cuffs, for example, now inflate themselves—but on the whole the exam has barely changed in the past century. Patients still open up and say “ah,” take deep breaths and gaze at a tiny light peering into the back of their eyes.
The annual exam is one of the most common and encouraged procedures in modern medicine. Whether it actually helps people get any healthier, however, isn't completely clear.
Modern technology could do a better job of picking up health problems before they get out of hand.
WE all make resolutions and promises to live healthier and better lives, to make the world a better place. Not having my annual physical is one small way I can help reduce health care costs — and save myself time, worry and a worthless exam.
Going to the doctor when you’re not sick does more harm than good.
How long can you put off a check-up before it really starts to matter?
A massive review of the evidence in 2012 found annual exams don’t save lives.
Unfortunately, excessive screening can open the door to unnecessary surgeries and medications — not to mention needless anxiety. Here, four tests to reconsider.
Doctors disagree about whether annual gynecological checkups do more harm than good—and all the conflicting recommendations are leaving patients confused.
Despite shortcomings, rather than abandoning the annual physical, it needs to be revitalized.
Some doctors have even suggested that annual physicals might be unnecessary for people who are in good health and who are not experiencing any symptoms of disease, because of the cost and the possibility of false positives.
Doctors and patients debate an assertion that the yearly exam is “basically worthless.”
Reducing the use of annual physicals could also save money and time. Though on a per-visit basis, the annual physical is not costly, it is the single most common reason that U.S. patients seek care, and cumulatively these visits cost more than $10 billion per year — similar to the annual costs of all lung-cancer care in the United States. Reducing the number of physicals could free up another societal resource — primary care providers' time.
Only 17 percent of women see their gynecologist for an annual exam. And while the American College of Physicians recently said that healthy-seeming women don’t really need a pelvic exam, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, along with many doctors, still believes in the value of a full workup.