Are Annual Physical Exams Necessary for Adults?

September 12, 2017
Physical Exams

Although annual checkups are part of the fabric of the U.S. health care system, some have questioned their usefulness. To determine if you should be visiting your doctor for a yearly physical, consider the following.
How Annual Checkups Began
Before the 20th century, it would have seemed strange for healthy people to visit doctors at periodic intervals to make sure everything was alright. In the 1900s, however, life insurance companies began requiring physical exams throughout the life of policies, instead of just at sign-up. Private doctors quickly embraced the idea, and in 1922, the American Medical Association formally endorsed the practice. Over time, annual checkups became standard; however, in recent years, experts have begun to question the practice.
Are They Really Useful?
Over the past few decades, numerous studies have been unable to show a link between periodic health evaluations and improved health outcomes. In 2012, the Cochrane Collaboration reported on 14 clinical trials which showed that annual checkups have no impact on hospital admission rates, disability, absences from work, additional doctor visits, specialist referrals, or even patient anxiety. Still, despite these findings, annual screenings can be justified or even necessary for certain people.
Who Needs an Annual Checkup?
When it comes to determining how often a person should visit the doctor, cases vary based on the individual. Because older people are more likely to suffer health problems, it makes sense for a person over the age of 65 to see his or her doctor for regular checkups. Likewise, annual checkups make a lot of sense for people with diabetes, heart problems and any other preexisting condition.
Family history should also be a factor in determining how frequently you visit your doctor for checkups. You should also consider annual exams if you have certain risk factors, including prehypertension or prediabetes.
It's also important to remember that, while some have questioned the merits of annual exams, they can uncover serious unknown health problems in certain people. If you have a "better to be safe than sorry" mentality, an annual exam may be just the thing to give you peace of mind.

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