Why Annual Check Ups Could Be a Thing of the Past

Why Annual Check Ups Could Be a Thing of the Past

For many patients, scheduling an annual checkup with our family doctor has always been encouraged. But a growing school of thought says these yearly visits could actually be doing more harm than good.

Why Annual Checkups Are A “Thing” 

Before explaining why checkups are changing, there are plenty of reasons to book an appointment when everything’s ok — and it’s not always to diagnose something.

In fact, one of the most compelling reasons for seeing a doctor regularly (and doing blood work) is to give doctors and patients a baseline to determine what is normal and what warrants further investigation. 

Seeing the same doctor also makes patients feel more comfortable asking questions since they have already established a relationship with them.

Checkups Can Help Find Early Signs

Nurse helping with an annual checkup

A big reason for an annual checkup is to find the start of issues early, which sounds far more credible than that whole “apple a day keeps the doctor away” folklore we’re all brought up on.

When Immediate Medical Attention Can Prevent Long-term Ailments And the Need for Surgery 

Some ailments patients experience should not be left for annual checkups or visits to the doctor until they really need to.

Take something pretty common, like carpal tunnel syndrome, for example. According to the NIH, carpal tunnel release is one of the most common surgical procedures in the United States. However, early intervention could save patients time and money and reduce the amount of pain. 

Experts at the Mayo Clinic say that with early diagnosis, nonsurgical methods may help improve carpal tunnel syndrome and prevent the need for surgery. That’s why they advocate seeing a doctor and starting treatment immediately after symptoms start. 

Early signs of carpal tunnel at annual checkup

With the risk of very real permanent nerve damage, this simple syndrome is not something to be ignored. However, many patients do just that. 

“I see a lot of people who say that their numbness was gradually worsening and now their hand is completely numb and has been for a year, said Rozental in an article published by Harvard Health Publishing.” If the nerve is compressed long enough, the muscle atrophies and the nerve damage becomes permanent.”

In this case, an extra visit to the doctor or surgeon can make the difference between a short-lived annoyance and a long-term problem.

How Often Should Patients See A Doctor?

Scheduling an annual checkup

There aren’t any hard and fast rules about when patients should start visiting their doctor annually (or even bi-annually). The general advice is to see a doctor every one to three years until the age of 64 or so. 

After that, it’s likely patients will want to see the doctor more often — usually yearly. That’s because there are more screenings and tests that older people should undergo regularly or semi-regularly that aren’t relevant to younger folk.

Why Annual Checkups and Testing Could be Dangerous And Misleading

Patient testing from an annual checkup

There are noted cases of doctors and the medical establishment being too enthusiastic about diagnosis and screenings, which has led to patients being treated for diseases and conditions they don’t even have. 

The U.S. spends around $300 million annually on unnecessary tests that are ordered at annual physicals. 

Inevitably, billions more are spent on (unnecessary) follow-up tests and treatments, which is good news for some but not patients who might have to foot the bill for these tests themselves. Medicare, for example, won’t cover the cost of an annual physical.

An article on CNN Health focusing on cancer screenings put it most succinctly, “Enthusiasm for cancer screenings runs high among patients and doctors, both of whom tend to overestimate the benefits but underappreciated risks, medical research shows.”

One of the hottest areas of debate with cancer screening is mammograms, which, according to the American Cancer Society, can certainly detect cancers, but they also detect cancers that would never have spread and don’t require treatment.

Doctor talking to a patient at an annual checkup

Added to this, there are false-positive results, which, according to the American Cancer Society, about half of the women getting annual mammograms over a 10-year period will receive — leading to a lot of worry, stress, and possibly unnecessary treatment. 

This is independent of the whole argument around exposing women to radiation. But the bottom line is that testing brings up a whole can of worms that may do more harm than good. Ultimately, patients must trust their doctors and follow their advice when deciding whether to have a mammogram or not.

When It Comes to Doctor’s Visits, It’s About Finding the Right Balance

Doctor and patient at annual checkup

Unless patients are over 65, visiting a doctor at least once a year might be unnecessary. But if it’s been five or ten years since they last did blood work with a family doctor, it’s probably a good idea to check in and make sure everything is in good order.

In general, it’s important to be aware of the risks involved in overzealous testing, but it’s equally critical for patients to listen to their body. If something doesn’t feel right, it should be checked out.

No matter how frequently patients visit their doctor, finding a trusted primary healthcare provider and maintaining a good rapport with them is crucial. This way, patients always have someone comfortable to talk about medical needs with and can make informed decisions about testing, screenings, and health.

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