Photo: Flickr / Laura4Smith
Millions of Americans flock to the doctor every year for a general check-up, often called a physical.The idea is simple: seeing a doctor allows a patient to ensure he or she is healthy, and if not, these annual visits enable a doctor to catch anything going wrong before it becomes too deleterious to a patient’s health.
But the results of an extensive study performed by the Nordic Cochrane centre in Denmark suggest that not only do check-ups fail to improve health outcomes, they also contribute to the rising cost of care.
In JAMA Internal Medicine, Dr. Allan Prochazka and Dr. Tanner Caverly write, “General health checks do no improve important outcomes and are unlikely to ever do so based on the pooled results of this meta-analysis spanning decades of experience.”
Doctors performed about 74 million check-ups in 2009, and the centre for Disease Control and Prevention confirms general medical exams remain the number one reason why Americans visit the doctor’s office.
But the study indicated that check-ups have no significant effect on total mortality, cardiovascular mortality, cancer mortality, and hospitalizations.
However, these general health examinations do contribute to America’s (over) spending on health care, which is the highest per capita in the world.
Dr. Prochazka argues that the spending that occurs during and as a result of these check is often wasteful:
During these health checks, an estimated $322 million is spent annually on laboratory tests that no guideline groups recommend…The cost of follow-up biopsies of normal breasts triggered by false-positive mammogram results alone is probably in the range of $14 to $70 billion annually. It is likely that follow-up testing from general health checks substantially contributes to the estimated $210 billion in annual spending on unnecessary medical services.
Incidental Economist Aaron Carroll, who presented an excerpt of the paper this morning, argues there is a need for an attitude shift regarding the value of check-ups, writing “The authors correctly note that changing people’s assumptions about checkups will be unbelievably hard. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it.”
You can find the whole article here.