Should annual physicals actually be annual?

February 26, 2013 in Health Insurance, Medical Care, Member Stories

I’ve been going to my childhood doctor every year for as long as I can remember. She’s helped me through the chicken pox, flu shots, ear infections, and the perils of puberty. But as my mom pointed out a couple of weeks ago, I’m now in my twenties, which is too old to still be going to a pediatrician. The nostalgia in me wants to scream, “No, you can’t make me go to a new doctor,” but the logic in me says, “I guess it’s time I go to a doctor’s office where the waiting room isn’t filled with Legos.”

My healthcare conscience mother and me.

My healthcare conscience mother and me.

But how urgent is it for me to find a new doctor for my annual physical? Here are the facts: I’m a 22-year-old female, I haven’t had a physical in almost 14 months, and I don’t believe that I have a serious illness that has surfaced since my last visit. Can’t I just skip a year and wait until I’ve found a new doctor that I like?

While my mom might say no, my pediatrician says yes. Dr. Marilyn Lange, a doctor in Los Angeles and a graduate of Tufts University School of Medicine, says that a woman of my age can get away with only having a physical every three to four years unless she has a medical problem. “There are definitely reasons to do it,” says Dr. Lange, “but if you want to skip a year, that’s fine.”

An article published by Duke Medicine supports Dr. Lange’s claim and says that how often you get a physical depends on your age and disease risk factors. Assuming you are healthy, the article suggests you get a physical every two to three years if you’re under 30, every one to two years if you’re between 30 and 40, and every year if you’re over 50.

Additionally, a Danish study released in 2012 foundthat general health checks “are unlikely to be beneficial.” The study included 14 trials with a total of 182,880 participants and found that there was no effect on the risk of death and only minimal risk of illness (one of the trials found an increased number of people with high blood pressure and high cholesterol).

With all of the facts laid out, it seems like it comes down to what you’re most comfortable with. Some people, like my mom, need to have the reassurance every year that their health is on track. But if you’re feeling healthy and your insurance doesn’t cover an annual physical, then according to the studies, you might be OK skipping a year or two. But in the end, it’s your body, your health, and your money, so until you’re of an age where an annual physical is necessary, how often you go is all up to you. As for me? I’m getting a physical this year because my mom says so.

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