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Annual health exam has no foreseeable benefit, Danish researchers say

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
October 17th, 2012
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Do you hate going to see your doctor for your annual physical? The long wait in a hospital gown . the doctor mysteriously disappearing midway through the exam, letting your mind wander and fear that you've come down with some incurable disease? According to Danish medical researchers, the annual checkup has no real benefit and is unlikely to identify and stem the tide of life-threatening diseases - and may cause undue stress. But you probably already knew that.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - The Danish researchers in the study involved more than 180,000 patients. Their conclusion: Doctors should stop offering unneeded check-ups. These exams didn't reduce deaths overall or deaths from cancer and heart disease, according to their review.

People aged 40-74 in the United Kingdom are offered a free health check. Began in 2009, the program is designed to spot conditions such as heart disease, stroke and diabetes by looking for such "silent risk factors" such as high blood pressure and cholesterol. While government officials say the scheme could save 650 lives a year, the latest findings suggest routine checks may be a waste of time.

Lead researcher Lasse Krogsbøll says that "the evidence we've seen, inviting patients to general health checks is unlikely to be beneficial."

Researchers say that the types of people who take up the offer of screening, are what is called "worried well," people who are fit and take an interest in their own health. In the meantime, those who are at high risk of serious illness stay away.

Genuine health problems are spotted at other times, such as when patients present themselves with symptoms.

"A likely explanation is that physicians are doing a good job of preventing illness anyway," Krogsbøll, of the Nordic Cochrane Centre in Denmark says.

"From the evidence we've seen, inviting patients to general health checks is unlikely to be beneficial.

"We're not saying that doctors should stop carrying out tests or offering treatment when they suspect that there may be a problem.

"But we do think that public healthcare initiatives that are systematically offering general health checks should be resisted."

Any screening program should be able to prove the benefits outweighed any potential harm, Krogsbøll says, such as anxiety or over-treatment.

"By spotting people who are at risk of heart attacks, diabetes, stroke and kidney disease we can help prevent them," a Department of Health representative told BBC News.

"The NHS Health Check program is based on expert guidance. Everyone having a health check is offered tailored advice and support to manage or reduce their risk of developing serious health conditions."

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