Ritual, Not Science, Keeps the Annual Physical Alive


Vega is one of more than 44 million Americans who is taking part in a medical ritual: visiting the doctor for an annual physical exam. But there’s little evidence that those visits actually do any good for healthy adults…

Hey, Unum, are these annual physicals part of your definition of “Regular Care”?

But the evidence is not on their side. “I would argue that we should move forward with the elimination of the annual physical,” says Dr. Ateev Mehrotra, a primary care physician and a professor of health policy at Harvard Medical School. Mehrotra says patients should really only go to the doctor if something is wrong, or if it’s time to have an important preventive test like a colonoscopy…

From what I’ve read, there’s no evidence that having an annual colonoscopy is beneficial, either.

The Society for General Internal Medicine even put annual physicals on a list of things doctors should avoid for healthy adults.

Perhaps included in that definition should be patients with chronic conditions for which the medical industry has no solution for.  I’m not sick, I’m disabled, and since doctors can’t help me, what’s the purpose of seeing one, except to throw away more money?

One problem, Mehrotra says, is the cost. Each visit usually costs insurers just $150, but that adds up fast. “We estimate that it’s about $10 billion a year, which is more than how much we spend as a society on breast cancer care,” Mehrotra says. “It’s all a lot of money.”  And then there’s the risk that a doctor will run a test and find a problem that’s not actually there. It’s called a false positive, and it can lead to a cascade of follow-up tests that can be expensive and could even cause real harm. 

Just like many of the treatments for pain that are expensive, and in the end, just cause more harm.

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