Bankrupt Health Care
The Expensive Myth of the Necessary Annual Physical

If you’re healthy and you’re planning on an annual physical at the doctor’s, don’t. Kaiser Health News reports on the enduring popularity of the annual physical, despite the poor evidence for its necessity:

92 percent of Americans say it is important to get an annual head-to-toe physical exam, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation poll (KHN is an editorially independent program of the foundation). And 62 percent of those polled said they went to the doctor every year for their exam.

But the evidence is not on their side. “I would argue that we should move forward with the elimination of the annual physical,” says Dr. Ateev Mehrotra, a primary care physician and a professor of health policy at Harvard Medical School […]

He says randomized trials going back to the 1980s just don’t support it.

The ingrained habit of seeking an annual physical comes with a big price tag: $10 billion, according to Dr. Mehrotra. Awareness is growing: the Society for General Internal Medicine now discourages doctors from giving annual physicals, according to Kaiser. This story is an example of the many opportunities for cost-cutting that are scattered throughout the U.S. health care system. Individually, better remote monitoring of individuals with chronic conditions, more rational health care behavior (e.g. jettisoning the annual physical), or greater price transparency won’t fix our health care cost problem, but collectively they could make an important dent in U.S. health expenditures.

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