Approximately 45 million Americans are projected to undergo an annual physical examination this year, but is it really necessary? In an opinion piece published in the New York Times, Ezekiel J. Emanuel, MD, PhD, argues that from a health perspective, these appointments are unlikely to be beneficial and may actually cause harm to a patient.
A 2021 review by the Cochrane Collaboration found that annual physicals did not reduce mortality overall or for specific causes of death from cancer or heart disease. One hypothesis for this is that the annual exam doesn’t prevent death or disability due to acute injuries like unintentional injury and suicide and does not help chronic conditions without significantly beneficial interventions. If a disease is discovered during the exam, this early detection may not prolong the patient’s life (as is sometimes the case with esophageal or pancreatic cancer). Healthy patients who undergo an exam may even experience complications or pain as a result of further screening or confirmatory tests.
Currently the United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) has not issued a recommendation on routine annual physical examinations, although the Canadian guidelines have recommended against these exams since 1979.
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