In response to, “why do we get annual physicals?”, Google reported 1.34 TRILLION results.
When asking everyday people that question most reply, “because we should”, then they pause – and you can almost hear the wheels turning – until their “life training” takes over and they relax knowing their answer was good.
In a January 2018 issue of TIME magazine, Markham Heid wrote; “A yearly check-in with a doctor seems undeniably prudent… but a growing pile of evidence finds that for healthy people without any symptoms, these yearly physician exams are a waste of time and money – and in some cases may do more harm than good.”
One argument blindly accepts the tradition of visiting the doctor every year. Another explains that visiting a doctor is not always prudent for healthy people.
According to Duke Health there are six reasons for making that annual appointment. 1) Prevent health problems. 2) Strengthen relationship between you and your doctor. 3) Establish baselines. 4) Save Money. 5) Update Vaccinations. 6) Review and renew medication prescriptions.
Prevention should be a key reason for regular checkups but does it work out that way? Yes, if you believe test results and sage advice will keep you on a healthy path. But, do we really need a doctor to explain a healthy lifestyle and warn us about risk factors? Who doesn’t know that obesity, too much alcohol, excess sugar, illegal drugs, smoking, and reckless activities can be harmful and potentially fatal? Or, who among us would support a suggestion that exercise is useless?
Unlike health care 50 years ago, today’s medical practices aren’t designed to foster one-on-one relationships with the same doctor. Patients are shuttled to one doctor for this and another for that. Doctors are so busy meeting their hourly quotas they don’t have spare moments to establish or strengthen relationships with their patients.
What is the benefit of knowing baselines unless it is to have something to compare with at the next annual checkup? A healthy person shouldn’t need to compare today’s data with numbers obtained years ago, except to validate obvious changes over time. Comparing yesterday with today could help support the obvious (hormone levels dropping, for example), but the usefulness is limited unless the person of today is unwell.
Every visit to a doctor consumes money and time, yet health costs skyrocket. Merely detecting a potential problem can lead to more tests, additional doctor visits, drugs, and procedures – all of which consume more resources with questionable benefit.
The vaccine story changes almost daily. Even experts have difficulty keeping up. Traditionally, doctors have managed vaccine administration. Today, though, most big-box drugstores will jab you upon demand. They have the information and they’re more convenient and often less expensive than making an appointment with the doctor.
A healthy person doesn’t take medications, which leaves nothing to review or renew. When medicines are being used, modern pharmacies have streamlined systems to review prescriptions and efficiently communicate with prescribers about dosing and refills.
Medical Doctors help people get better when they’re sick. Except in rare situations, they’re not our friends, and they’re not responsible for our personal lives. We seek their help, as we do with other professionals, when needed. We’d think it odd to have an annual appointment with a lawyer if we weren’t experiencing legal issues so why does it seem normal to see a doctor every year if we don’t have health problems?
It would be wrong to broadly denounce regular physical exams, but good to pose a vital question before blindly assuming the annual ritual is best.
There are times when regular scheduled exams are important; pregnancy, early childhood, school, military, sports, etc., but for many of us, it can be a misuse of resources to endure the checkup when we’re feeling fine. Everybody benefits when everyone acts with intention and asks themselves whether they really need the annual exam, and decide on their own without coercion, criticism or guilt.
Dr. William Davis has published an unusual book, Undoctored: Why Health Care Has Failed You and How You Can Become Smarter Than Your Doctor. While it isn’t directly correlated to the topic of this blog post, it offers an alternative view of health care that you may find valuable.