Farewell to the annual exam…or maybe not

By Aine Cryts

Proponents of the annual physical say it helps create strong physician-patient relationships which can translate into the diagnosis of life-threatening conditions, whereas its critics say the ritual is a waste of both time and money.

"Opinions are decidedly mixed," Zackary Berger, M.D., professor at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore, told USA Today, noting that, as a result of the Affordable Care Act, preventive care provided during wellness visits is fully covered by insurance.

Still, there's no single authoritative voice saying that annual exams should be required, according to an article from The Wall Street Journal. While the Society of General Internal Medicine recommends against annual exams for healthy adults, other organizations--such as the American College of Physicians and the American Academy of Family Physicians--take no official positions on the issue.

Some internal medicine and primary care physicians advocate for checkups for healthy, young adults every three years, according to the WSJ. For the doctors who spoke with USA Today, it seems to be a matter of personal preference.

Berger, for example, simply tells his patients to come see him when they need to, whereas Mary Ann Bauman, M.D., an Oklahoma City-based internist, said that she insists on her patients seeing her for their annual checkup. That's because the yearly ritual allows her to connect with patients on a personal level, make time for required tests and discuss patients' lifestyle choices around physical activity and stress, she told the newspaper.

Annual exam detractors do have a few points in their favor, including the fact that there's no proof annual exams actually translate into reduced deaths or illnesses, USA Today noted. Further, some argue the annual ritual may be harmful to patients if, as a result, patients are subjected to unnecessary tests and treatments.

And then there's the cost: The price tag for one-third of U.S. adults to receive an annual exam is $10 billion dollars. Continuing to spend all that money absent strong scientific proof is irresponsible, critics told the newspaper.

To learn more:
- read the USA Today article
- see the WSJ article