Ask Dr. Rose: How Important Are Annual Physicals?

Dr. Rose comments on annual physicalsEarlier this month, a reader submitted a question for primary care physician Clement Rose, MD, on the Weiss website.

“Do you recommend annual physicals?” Katie wanted to know. “If so, when should people start going?”

A recent New York Times article questioning the benefit of annual physicals may have prompted Katie’s questions. According to the story, 45 million Americans will visit their doctor for a routine physical this year, checking their blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol levels along with their general health status.

“There is only one problem: From a health perspective, the annual physical exam is basically worthless,” the New York Times article states.

Dr. Rose has a similar take. “An annual physical for a seemingly healthy person to do blood tests and vital sign checks has not proven to be cost effective or beneficial to a patient,” he says. 

The New York Times cites research on annual health exams from 1963 to 1999 that reported the physicals did not reduce mortality rates. 

For that reason—a lack of evidence—the United States Preventive Services Task Force is not for or against annual physicals. The Canadian guidelines began recommending against physicals some 30 years ago, in 1979.

However, Dr. Rose says there is a benefit in periodic doctor visits if you have a specific risk factor, such as family history of a disease. In those instances, he says to stick with recommended screening guidelines.

“If an individual below age 40 has a chronic condition or a family history of disease, it’s a good idea to see a physician to make sure conditions haven’t worsened and to make sure that you understand how to manage risk factors for disease, such as smoking or obesity,” Dr. Rose adds.

And if you’re over age 50, Dr. Rose says maybe annual appointments with your doctor are a good thing. This will give you an opportunity to “review risk factors and age-appropriate health screening guidelines and counseling for preventive care or early detection.”

From there, the doctor can decide whether or not to do additional testing.

For Dr. Rose, the best value of an annual medical visit “is to establish a rapport with your healthcare provider and have an ongoing dialogue regarding preventive care, screenings, risk reductions, and patient education.”

Regardless of how often you see your doctor, it’s good to have a primary care physician who can answer your pressing health questions as they arise. 

Need a primary care physician? Call Weiss at (800) 503-1234, or use the “Find A Physician” search online.