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Large medical study finds fault with time-honored annual physical

For many New Jersey residents, as well as many millions of other people across the country, the annual medical physical is an unquestioned and scrupulously adhered-to practice.

Should it be?

Rumblings about the efficacy of persons without particular symptoms of illness or disease -- commonly referred to within the medical community as "asymptomatic populations" -- routinely undergoing yearly check-ups have been widely noted for years.

And those complaints about seeing a doctor for a battery of tests in the absence of a specific ailment are growing.

The U.S. Preventative Services Task Force -- a group of medical experts who advise the federal government -- has recommended against annual physicals for asymptomatic persons since 1989.

Findings of a large and systematic study recently conducted in Denmark now firmly support that recommendation, with researchers there saying that "healthcare initiatives that are systematically offering general health check should be resisted."

In fact, note study authors, annual check-ups are "unlikely to be beneficial" except when a patient already evidences symptoms that can be followed through on.

One primary reason for that is that doctors with some regularity identify conditions that either do not exist or are not dangerous, and subject a patient thereafter to further tests and treatment.

In addition to not being beneficial, that can be flatly dangerous. What is widely termed the practice of "defensive medicine" -- doctors ordering up batteries of diagnostic screenings and tests to insulate against claims of medical malpractice claims or hospital negligence -- often leads to false-positive results. Misdiagnosis can in turn lead to improper treatments, subsequent surgical error, hospital-acquired infections and a host of other problems.

The study involved scrutinizing data from 14 random clinical trials involving more than 180,000 people.

Source: Medical News Today, "General health checks seem of little benefit," Catherine Paddock, Oct. 17, 2012

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