Slate examines the benefit of the annual physical and finds it wanting. Nearly one-in-ten physician visits is for annual checkups ― costing about $8 billion annually. Otherwise healthy Americans visit their physicians more than 44 million times a year despite having no medical complaint that needs to be addressed. What constitutes an annual physical exam varies form one doctor to the next. Your doctor may just talk to you about your health, check blood pressure and listen to your chest through a stethoscope. Other physicians (or your own physician on a different day) may order preventive medical screenings like mammograms, check for cholesterol. A doctor may even order a battery of laboratory tests. The exact procedures can vary because there are no standardized procedures for what is included in an annual health exam. According to Slate:
The annual health exam is a venerable tradition, stretching back to the late 19th century — those heady days of medicine when doctors overestimated their own ability to cure disease, and badly underestimated their tendency to cause it. We’re now in the evidence-based era of medicine, and there’s little evidence that annual exams provide any benefit. So here’s a free bit of advice: If you’re not sick, don’t go to the doctor.
So what’s the problem? Besides the waste of resources, there’s an elevated chance for false positives and all the accompanying mental anguish and follow up procedures to ascertain there is no (and never was an) actual problem. There is also the tendency to “medicalize” minor ailments, when patients report symptoms they would have ignored. As the result of annual exams, doctors often treat (or over treat) conditions that would have gone away on their own.