Is the annual physical exam necessary?

April 3, 2018

As we begin the fourth month of the new year, our New Year resolutions may be getting harder to maintain. Keep eating more vegetables, exercise, meditate and quiet the mind. But, what about that annual physical? Is it necessary?

For healthy adults showing no symptoms of illness or disease, the annual health care exam may be a way of the past.

The physical health exam, or PHE, has been a fundamental part of medical practice for decades. But, a consensus on its value has yet to be proven.

A 2012 large scale review in the British Medical Journal suggests that the annual physical exam for healthy people did not reduce morbidity or mortality. A 2007 study in the Annals of Internal Medicine justified the need for a physical exam to build the patient-doctor relationship but cautioned that an annual exam induces unnecessary costs and patient harms by promoting the use of non-recommended services like bloodwork, x-rays and other routine tests.

With healthcare experts today focusing on preventative medicine and outcomes-based practices, when is a good time to get a physical exam?

A recent article in TIME magazine highlighted these studies and interviewed family practice physicians who believe that the PHE does need review, and for those under 40 with no symptoms or health issues, seeing a doctor once a year for health “tune up” is not necessary.

“I couldn’t agree more,” said Texas MedClinic Chief Operating Officer and practicing physician Dr. David Gude. “If you are healthy, do not have symptoms, having an annual physical where unnecessary tests are administered is a tax on medical practices and the overall health care system.”

Gude suggests making an appointment with your physician if there is a specific concern or symptom and encourages attending community health fairs that offer blood pressure, cholesterol, weight/body mass index, diabetes, and vision screenings. If the medical professional administering the screening determines there is a symptom that needs follow up, they will provide the test results and connect you to a primary care physician should you not have one.

“The inherent value is in the patient-doctor relationship,” explains Gude. “When you have a trusted medical source that knows you, it’s your best form of preventative medicine. So, when you head to your doctor because you have a sore throat, earache, or persistent headaches, they are able to assess other underlying medical issues at the same time.”

Experts agree that primary care and internal medicine physicians are vital in the overall management of health, as they are acutely aware of symptoms that could have a significant impact on a patient’s overall wellbeing, such as cardiovascular disease, hypertension, and diabetes.

“When symptoms present themselves, your doctor will know and provide the necessary background tests to investigate any underlying medical issues,” said Gude.

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