Blog | Friday, November 16, 2012

The annual physical: You'll get out of it what you put into it

Here's a great article about the physical exam, its historical roots and why its benefits are not clear.

My reactions are manifold:

1. Not surprising. I've been telling people for years that there is no great evidence for any particular visit interval. My understanding: the "yearly visit" was invented by those great protectors of American health and welfare, the insurance companies.

2. The studies that show little effect of the annual physical, i.e. the ones which have gotten the most press recently, are measuring the wrong endpoint. Sometimes people like to see their doctor to maintain the relationship, so that the MD is there if they are needed.

3. Doctor-patient communication is not yet as good as it should be across the board. Nor is the visit optimized to get the most out of the relationship. When (if!) those improvements occur, we will move the needle on the next go-round of such systematic reviews.

Zackary Berger, MD, ACP Member, is a primary care doctor and general internist in the Division of General Internal Medicine at Johns Hopkins. His research interests include doctor-patient communication, bioethics, and systematic reviews. He is also a poet, journalist and translator in Yiddish and English. This post originally appeared at his blog.