By Susan Cody
Well, this is one for the books! Just 10 days ago I scheduled my annual physical six weeks ahead. I'm having it done as part of my own health maintenance and also using it to follow up on some sports injuries I've accrued in the past 18 months.
And today I came across a study that says it might be a waste of time!
At my annual, I'll get a reminder about booking a mammogram (done!), a general exam and a chat about mental health -- the usual stuff my health care provider and clinic offer.
Will I die without it? Certainly not! But it's something I've done with some regularity for the past 15 years and something I plan to continue. It also helps that I have good insurance. My husband gets an annual and my kids see their pediatrician when needed. Most of my friends get annual physicals too.
So do we actually need these annual physicals? If we're overall healthy human beings with no chronic illness or diseases, what exactly is an annual physical going to do, aside from checking blood pressure and heart rate?
Apparently, it's not going to help much at all, according to a report from the Nordic Cochrane Center in Copenhagen, Denmark. The report looked at sixteen studies on the subject, following almost 185,000 people .
The general outcome of the research was that while more diagnoses of conditions like high blood pressure were found in those that got the screenings, nobody who had routine checkups actually lived longer than those who did not.
Nine of the trials saw nearly 12,000 deaths over the period of time they were studied. But of the people who died, there was no difference as to whether they were in a group that got annual screenings for conditions like cancer or heart disease, or not.
In England, people are offered free health screenings from age 40 to 74 to conduct standard testing for conditions like heart disease, various cancers and diabetes.
Most people are told that annual screenings for these conditions can find or help prevent them but according to the Copenhagen study, those yearly exams may not really be as helpful as thought. The Copenhagen report showed there was no increase in hospital admissions or follow-ups with those who received annuals, therefore nothing of consequence had occurred due to the yearly checkups.
One of the researchers, Lasse T. Krogsbøll, believes this shows that regular health screenings are simply not needed. "From the evidence we've seen, inviting patients to general health checks is unlikely to be beneficial," said Krogsbøll.
"One reason for this might be that doctors identify additional problems and take action when they see patients for other reasons. What we're not saying is that doctors should stop carrying out tests or offering treatment when they suspect there may be a problem. But we do think that public healthcare initiatives that are systematically offering general health checks should be resisted." redOrbit http://s.tt/1qj2n
Doctors may feel differently. An EmpowHER article by Julie Martin, MS, talked about a 2005 study of nearly 1700 doctors from Boston, to Denver, to San Diego, who were asked their thoughts about annual checkups and exams. It showed that 47 percent of doctors believed the annual exam to be a good thing. They believed that the annual exam fosters a good doctor/patient relationship, allowing both to talk about any concerns the patient has, or preventative measures that could be placed to continue good health.
As to the real impact of these annuals, tests like Pap smears and mammograms do show benefits for women. But for both men and women, research seems clear that the benefits are little, if any.
One more thing is noteworthy about studies that look at the value of annual physicals is that healthy people with healthy lifestyles tend to take care of their health more, by getting checkups and generally monitoring their health.
Therefore the people who choose to have annuals may not be the ones who actually need them.
Also, the studies were conducted in Europe, a continent with many diverse health care systems which are also very different from the American one. There are limitations to the real-life outcomes of research like this.
So what does all this mean for the individual?
Annual check-ups are mostly a personal choice, unless mandated by employers, life insurance or other outside factors. If a person believes them to be beneficial, they should continue with them, but they should not be viewed as a guarantee that one's health is at its optimum.
Do you have an annual exam? Do you believe annual exams are important?
redorbit.com. Health. Researchers Say General Health Checkups Do Not Save Lives. Web. Retrieved October 9th, 2012.
EmpowHER.com. Wellness. Physicians Find Annual Exams Valuable Despite Lack of Evidence, by Julie J Martin, MS. Web. Retrieved October 9th. 2012.
Reviewed October 25, 2012
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith
By Susan Cody