“Use of general health checks in adults did not work as intended: Cochrane.” By T.L. Krogsbøl and colleagues, British Medical Journal

General health checks have long been common elements of healthcare in some countries. Health checks are also performed by some primary care physicians outside organized programmes and by commercial clinics. Health checks are intended to reduce morbidity and prolong life. However, evidence for their effectiveness has been lacking. While we cannot be certain that general health checks lead to benefit, we know that all medical interventions can lead to harm. Possible harms from health checks are:

  • overdiagnosis
  • overtreatment
  • distress or injury from invasive follow-up tests
  • distress due to false positive test results
  • false reassurance due to false negative test results
  • possible continuation of adverse health behaviors due to negative test results
  • adverse psychosocial effects due to labeling
  • difficulties with getting insurance
  • expense
  • lost opportunities to improve other areas of healthcare

This study evaluated 14 trials that included more than 182 thousand participants, with over 76 thousand allocated to health checks and more than 106 thousand to control groups. It found that the interventions did not work as intended. There was no effect on mortality. The use of general health checks is not supported by the best available evidence. However, the researchers recommend additional research looking into individual components of health checks (e.g., screening for cardiovascular risk factors, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, diabetes, or kidney disease.)

SourceKrogsbøl, TL et al. General health checks in adults for reducing morbidity and mortality from disease: Cochrane systematic review and meta-analysis.” BMJ 2012;345:e7191

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