Health Team

Some doctors say annual physicals aren't necessary

Posted June 21, 2012

— Most people want to save time and money, and some health experts suggest people do both by not getting annual physical exams. 

Critics say going to the doctor too often, even for routine medical exams, can lead to unnecessary tests that cost extra money and can lead to other complications. 

The American Board of Internal Medicine Foundation and Consumer Reports recently created a list of basic tests and procedures they claim have no value. Routine chest X-rays before surgery in patients with no symptoms, exercise EKGs in patients at low risk of heart disease and CT or MRI scans for simple fainting episodes made the list. 

As with most medical decisions, however, patients need to find the balance that fits their specific medial and financial considerations. 

Older patients, like 81-year-old Al Buehler, often visit the doctor more regularly. Buehler, a retired track coach from Duke University, said he wants to make sure no problems go undetected. 

"At 81, Duke's done a great job at getting me here. And I hope to make another couple of more years before father time catches us," Buehler said. 

Some doctors say annual physicals aren't necessary Some doctors say annual physicals aren't necessary

Dr. John Paat, who works at the Duke Private Diagnostic Clinic, said each patient has to make personal decisions regarding how often to see a physician. 

"Depending on your age, or your risk, and your specific concerns, if you're otherwise healthy and assymptomatic, it may be a different time frame," he said. 

Paat recommends at least "periodic" visits for everyone so that doctors can get updates on medical issues important to each patient. 

Thomas Jones, 40, said he's wanted to go to the doctor more often as he gets older because he's at increased risk for things like heart disease, diabetes and prostate cancer. 

"I just feel more comfortable with myself knowing that my health is OK," he said.


This story is closed for comments.

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  • cblackman Jun 25, 2012

    Recently, Medicare and other insurance carriers are pushing preventive healthcare. Meaning, there is no cost to the insured when receiving an annual physical/wellness exam. In an audit from BCBS, we were questioned why we had so many patients without annual physical exams. So, we must offer and if the patient declines, we must document. So, the government is pushing wellness. So, regardless what a physician/provider thinks is best, the insurance plans and the government will call the shots....

  • murdock Jun 22, 2012

    Family Medicine physicians strive to make sure patients stay healthy. When patients have a physical, some tests are very important. If patients do not have periodic exams, the time and money they think they are saving can become a hospitalization or a devastating illness like a stroke or heart attack.

  • snowl Jun 21, 2012

    I find it interesting that the costs of these tests, unnecessary or not, are not discussed in such an article. The folks who are fine with having any test that their doctor feels like ordering, if they need it or not, must have excellent health care with minimal out of pocket expenses. I'm just saying.