It may sound a little odd to suggest not going to the doctor. But this editorial does just that. About 45 million American adults have a basic annual check-up. However, a study has indicated that those check-ups for adults — with no specific symptoms to discuss — are not particularly useful. In fact, the Canadian guidelines have recommended against these exams since 1979.
In 2012, the Cochrane Collaboration, an international group of medical researchers who systematically review the world’s biomedical research, analyzed 14 randomized controlled trials with over 182,000 people followed for a median of nine years. Their findings? Regardless of which screenings and tests were administered, studies of annual health exams dating from 1963 to 1999 show that the annual physicals did not reduce mortality overall or for specific causes of death from cancer or heart disease.
There are many reasons why the annual physical is not productive; it does little to avert death or disability from acute problems; it does little for chronic conditions without significantly useful interventions; and, sadly, an early diagnosis might extend the time patients know they have cancer but is unlikely to extend their lives.
This is not to suggest skipping doctor visits altogether: get your flu shots, stay up-to-date on vaccines, discuss symptoms with your doctor.
But consider this from Dr. Ezekiel J. Emanuel, oncologist and vice provost at U. Penn: Those who preach the gospel of the routine physical have to produce the data to show why these physician visits are beneficial. If they cannot, join me and make a new resolution: My medical routine won’t include an annual exam. That will free up countless hours of doctors’ time for patients who really do have a medical problem, helping to ensure there is no doctor shortage as more Americans get health insurance.