A recent study meant to look at the value of trips to doctor’s offices has confirmed what astute critics have felt for years–the annual medical physical is bunch of bunk. According to the study, about 63 million Americans visit medical offices for routine annual physicals every year spending $7.8 billion.
The study, which was published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, points out that “more than 80 percent of preventive care provided by doctors does not take place during this annual check-up. And more than $350 million worth of potentially unnecessary medical tests are performed.” No kidding. You mean, providing a healthy 39-year-old man with an expensive heart ECG (stress test) isn’t a responsible, or cost effective, screening measure? You don’t say. It’s only about $129 a pop. Ah, insurance will cover it. But wait, now experts are saying that these tests shouldn’t be provided for anybody with less than two risk factors: cigarette smoking, high blood pressure or high serum cholesterol levels, diabetes, or a family history of coronary disease before age 55.
So what else do you get at an annual check up? Urinalysis–not necessary for people withot symptoms. Blood cholesterol screening–only need it every five years. Stool samples–only in the over-50 set. Saying that, it is still recommended for women to get annual Pap smears as well as annual breast exams once they hit 40. But for the most part, these yearly physicals do little more than increase costs. According to Dr. Ateev Mehrotra of the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and the RAND Corp., who led the study, “We need to question encouraging everybody to come in for an annual physical. There’s a lot of money, a lot of visits, a lot of adults going to see their doctor for annual physical exams with a real unclear benefit. It’s the No. 1 reason adults see their doctor, and yet we don’t know whether it’s helpful or not.”
Obviously keeping an eye on your health is important. And having a set of educated and experienced eyes looking at you is helpful. But the long outdated medical exam needs be changed. Thank goodness sensible minds in the medical community are questioning this practice and are stimulating change. The world is changing rapidly and we need to alter many of our outmoded ways and procedures to keep relevant in the modern world. One of the most crucial areas in which change is needed is in how we view and care for our health. Studies like this one are definitely a good start, but we’ve still got work to do. Thankfully, human consciousness is transforming–leading us into new frontiers.