“Routine Physicals Don’t Save Lives.” By Charles Bankhead, MedPage Today

A systematic review and meta-analysis of 16 clinical trials involving 183,000 patients found that general health checkups, long recommended as a component of routine healthcare, had no benefit in terms of decreasing overall morbidity and mortality. There was also no demonstrated benefit to checkups for reducing cardiovascular- or cancer-related mortality. Some of the studies analyzed showed increased diagnosis of hypertension, hypercholesterolemia, and certain chronic diseases. “One reason for the apparent lack of effect may be that primary care physicians already identify and intervene when they suspect a patient to be at high risk of developing disease when they see them for other reasons,” the authors wrote of their findings. “Also, those at high risk of developing disease may not attend general health checks when invited.” Dr. Gilbert Welch argues that a clear message is that in general the medical system has oversold the benefits of routine screenings and downplayed the harms, when in reality there is a balance to be maintained. Interested patients who would like to take ownership of their decisions, he says, should spend time educating themselves on why there are two sides to the issue.

Primary source: Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews

Krogsbøll LT, et al. “General health checks in adults for reducing morbidity and mortality from disease” Cochrane Database Syst Rev 2012; DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD009009.pub2.

Related: Krogsbøll LT, et al. “General health checks in adults for reducing morbidity and mortality from disease: Cochrane systematic review and meta-analysis.” BMJ 2012;345:e7191 (Published 20 November 2012).

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