Most patients still believe that they should come in yearly for a “physical exam”. But, in Harvard’s Health newsletter, Dr. Amy Shipp, a primary care physician, reminds us that adherence to this notion is just plain wrong. She quotes an editorial published in the New England Medical Journal by Mehrotra and Prochazka, who argue that, not only does an annual physical exam not improve your overall health outcome, some lab tests and exams that are ordered during this annual visit are more likely to be “false positives”. They argue that foregoing these visits will save everyone money and time.
So, if healthy patients don’t need to come in for annual exams, what is recommended for patients and their primary care physicians instead? Do you need to come in at all to see your physician and, if so, for what purpose? The answer is, yes, you should still make an appointment to visit with your doctor, probably annually. During this visit, we will review your health status, update your history, review your adherence to recommended preventive practices such as immunizations, colorectal cancer or breast cancer screening, etc. The point is that the emphasis is on reviewing your overall health status and what you can do to improve it, rather than just coming in to “be checked over” and “get some blood work done”.
This annual visit improves and reinforces the doctor patient relationship, allows a face to face time to discuss issues and questions about your health and, in some cases, to obtain blood work or schedule preventive procedures that are deemed to be needed or appropriate.
So, stop worrying about your annual physical and just take advantage of your relationship with your primary care physician to be your health advisor and advocate.