Surge of U.S. healthcare enrollment leaves yearly checkups under scrutiny by healthcare professionals
Nearly 9 million Americans enrolled in affordable healthcare programs before December 2015’s cutoff date. In a survey of 1,500 people, almost two-thirds of adults in the U.S. conscientiously claim to go in for their annual checkup every year.
Demand for annual physical exams has spiked since the Affordable Care Act’s calls for checkups to be free of charge. Currently, yearly physicals make up an average of 10 percent of patient visits for internists and primary care physicians.
But the question remains: is this routine ritual considered outdated?
Medical experts are at odds over the benefits of yearly checkups. While physicals can be a key part of strengthening the connection between physician and patient—leading to the detection of unexpected health scares, including depression and more serious skin cancers—there are some harmful elements to the exam.
According to some research, regular checkups don’t necessarily show a significant reduction in rates of illness or mortality. False positives from these exams can harmful and lead to excessive testing. Is this a waste of healthcare resources?
“I think there are probably subsets of people who can go longer than a year between visits but I think it’s quite important for people to know their doctor before they get sick,” noted David Himmelstein, a primary care doctor in New York and co-author of an editorial in praise of yearly checkups.
The ongoing dialogue in the medical community is starting to shape healthcare systems’ choices. Already, the Minneapolis-based HealthPartners network has rethought how to incorporate checkups into other doctor visits.
“What we’ve been trying to do is to use every engagement we have with patients as an opportunity to assess what they might need for their preventive care. Patients are trying to bring up more things at one visit instead of having multiple visits,” explained Beth Averbeck, HealthPartners’ senior medical director.
The closer physicians are with patients can dictate whether some health issues are overlooked or not. But, as general internist at Massachusetts General Hospital Allan Goroll says, “The question becomes how can we revitalize this important aspect of health care into what it was always intended to be, an annual personal health review meaningful to both doctor and patient.”
Dr. Goroll maintained that delegating some of physicians’ tasks from yearly checkups to other healthcare professionals—like going over prescriptions and providing vaccines—has the potential to “free up the primary-care physicians to do the more complex and personalized work.”
He elaborated, “In an era of fee-for-service medicine, physicals are often rushed and perfunctory.”
Meanwhile, the American College of Physicians has no stance on the issue. Internists and primary-care doctors individually claim that checkups for for healthy, young adults may only be needed about every three years.
Will you be rushing to schedule your yearly checkup in 2016?