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Danish study finds annual physical exam unnecessary, possibly stressful

October 17, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
A new report may have doctors and patients re-evaluating the traditional concept of the annual physical exam. A European study finds that contrary to what most people think, it's not the best way to stay on top of one's health.

A Danish study is generating some controversy. It finds that a yearly general checkup is unlikely to catch a condition needing treatment, and that it may even cause undue stress.

The far-reaching study suggests doctors should stop offering annual physicals because they don't appear to reduce deaths from cancer or heart disease.

"We try not to encourage patients to just come in just to listen for the heart and lungs because we found out that just listening to heart and lungs really doesn't tell us a lot of information about the patient," said internist Dr. Khine Khine Win.

Win says it's important to note the study was done in a country that offers socialized medicine. Whereas in the U.S., an annual physical exam may be the sole point of contact between doctor and patient. At Kaiser Permanente, where she practices, every doctor visit is treated like a wellness check.

Electronic medical records make it easy for her to see what type of prevention screening a patient needs.

"We don't wait until they come in for a physical exam to take care of the patient as a whole. They can come in for any other reason, and if there's anything they're missing in terms of checkup, we will actually take care of it right then and there," said Win.

One thing we can learn about this study experts say is any time you visit your doctor, whether it be for a cold or a headache, ask about your general health: When did you last get your last mammogram, or when did you last get your cholesterol checked?

The study in the Journal of the Cochrane Library showed that patients who received routine health checks were just as likely to die over nine years compared with those who didn't get them.

Yearly exams also had no effect on hospital admissions, patient worry, referrals to specialists or time off work.

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