NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


July 8, 2005

Most doctors in a recent survey said annual physical examinations were effective in detecting illness in apparently healthy patients even though there is little scientific evidence to support the exams.

The report, published in Archives of Internal Medicine, found physicians were largely unaware that current federal government guidelines did not recommend annual exams for healthy adults without symptoms. It also revealed that when performing annual physicals, physicians routinely ordered screening tests that had not been proved useful for patients with no symptoms.

Of the 783 physicians surveyed:

  • Some 65 percent maintained that an annual physical was necessary, and 55 percent believed annual physicals for healthy adults were recommended by national organizations.
  • According to federal guidelines, a complete blood count test has no proven value for asymptomatic people, but 39 percent of physicians indicated they would order one yearly.
  • About 45 percent asked for urinalysis, 46 percent wanted blood glucose levels and 32 percent requested kidney function tests, even though none of these are recommended by the government as routine screening procedures.

Patients like tests and the survey shows physicians order them frequently. But Allan Prochazka, lead author of the study, says unnecessary testing is not harmless. In fact, he says, to the extent that one does a lot of testing of unproven value, it may actually detract from taking actions known to be beneficial.

Advocates of annual exams say they help improve the doctor-patient bond and 94 percent of the doctors agreed. Evidence suggests that a good relationship between doctors and patients is also associated with adherence to treatment regimens.

Source: Nicholas Bakalar, "Tests on Healthy Patients Still Endorsed by Doctors," New York Times, July 5, 2005.

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For study in Archives of Internal Medicine:


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