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Routine Healthcare Checkups: Do We Really Need Them?

Routine Healthcare Checkups

When my adult son outgrew his pediatrician, I encouraged him to find a new adult healthcare provider.  He wasn’t sick and didn’t have any known health problems, so he wasn’t thrilled about the idea.  But as a Registered Nurse and his mother, I thought I knew best and kept suggesting it until he finally went.  Was this the right thing to do or was it unnecessary and overly cautious?  Are routine healthcare checkups really that important?

office visitFreeImages.com/Kurhan

My Rationale for Making the Appointment

I truly had my son’s best interest at heart and certainly did not want him just wasting time or money.  Not to mention, like most of you, I was hoping that the provider wouldn’t find anything wrong and that life would go on like normal.  But, this was not just a whimsical thought, my unsolicited encouragement was based on three basic ideas, which all seemed to make good sense to me.

  •  Establish a Professional Relationship.  If my son did become ill or have a problem in the future, he would have an established relationship with a medical professional.  His provider would know his history and his normal health status to compare any changes.
  •  Increase your Options.  Sometimes healthcare offices become overly busy and close to new patients.  Therefore, he might not have a choice if he waited until there was an urgent need.  In our house, we like use the phrase, “you snooze, you lose” and that could limit his options.
  •  Detect Unknown Problems.  There was a possibility that he may actually have a health problem that would only be detected with a physical exam or blood work.  While none of us want a bad report, it’s always better to be safe than sorry.  

The Rationale for NOT Having Annual Checkups

Since I was convinced that annual checkups were a good thing, I decided to research what the current recommendations were for adults, which I expected would backup my logical opinions.  Instead, I discovered that annual physicals are no longer recommended for everyone.  Instead of standards that apply to everyone, each client is being evaluated according to their individual needs.  In fact, some medical professionals are now referring to these checkups as “Periodic Health Examinations” intentionally using a vague word for how frequent they should be done.  Mehrotra and Prochazka (2015) tell us that research shows that having a yearly physical is no guarantee that you won’t get sick or that you will live longer.  In fact, it may actually cause you harm since false test results can cause you to stress over a health problem that doesn’t even exist.

So, when should I make an appointment?

Talk to your healthcare provider about how often they want you to come in for a checkup.  If you have a known health problem, are at high risk for developing one, or are due for a certain type of care or screening, you should make that appointment.  But if all is well, and there are no needs for concern, you may be able to go every few years or when you are actually sick.

Reflection Questions:

When was the last time you had a routine checkup?  Is it time to schedule one?

References

Mehrotra, A., & Prochazka, A. (2015). Improving value in health care — against the annual physical. N Engl J Med, 373(16), 1485-1487. doi:10.1056/NEJMp1507485

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