The start of a new year means it’s time to schedule your annual physical. After all, the yearly exam is the foundation of good health care. Or is it? Health experts are beginning to question if the annual trip to the doctor’s office is essential or if it has become a relic from a bygone era.
About 44 million Americans receive a physical exam every year, according to findings in the publication JAMA Internal Medicine. The Affordable Care Act requires insurance companies to completely cover physicals. But research shows this medical ritual doesn’t keep people from getting sick or help you live longer. It can actually be harmful: Unnecessary lab testing may lead to false positives, test results that insinuate a nonexistent problem. Reducing annual exams can save money, too. They generate about $10 billion per year in health care costs.
On the other hand, there are reasons to continue the tradition. Annual physical exams strengthen the doctor-patient relationship. It’s a good time to speak with your doctor about medications, diet and exercise plans, and get to know each other outside of a health crisis. This way, you’re not only reacting to an illness when visiting the doctor but also proactively keeping your overall health in top shape. The annual exam can also lead to unexpected diagnoses of melanoma and depression, and it can help keep blood pressure and cholesterol levels in check.
If you’re a healthy adult, research suggests you can forgo the annual visit and go for a physical every couple of years. But if you’re unsure whether the annual exam is necessary for your health, speak with your doctor. Together, you’ll create the best plan for you.