Are Annual Physicals a Waste of Time?

Dr. Richard Besser discusses new study that casts doubt on common medical practice.
3:00 | 10/17/12

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Transcript for Are Annual Physicals a Waste of Time?
And a startling headline today about an article of faith in the health of american families. The annual physical at the doctor's office. A new study by british researchers raises the question, do they really make us healthier and do they save lives? Abc's chief medical editor dr. Richard besser has been pouring over the results. Reporter: We've thought of it as the right way to do medicine. Urge everyone to get an annual checkup, even if they felt fine. But the study out today, looking at more than 150,000 people at different times in different countries, may take you out of the waiting room. Comparing average people who got an annual checkup with people who didn't, there was no difference in the risk of death from heart disease or cancer. No difference in the risk of death from any disease. Annual physicals also mean annual testing, blood tests for one. 187 million changes hands each year for blood tests during physical exams, that you don't need. The problem is, patients want to get poked and prodded. 90% expect a physical exam of everything from reflexes to heartbeat. Doctors, too. 94% said an annual physical was crucial. So, what's good medicine? Is all that time in a paper dress just a waste? So, what about it, dr. Richard besser? Is it a waste? What do you think? Reporter: I don't think it's a waste. If you had a normal physical exam this year and you're feeling well, take a break. Every two years, check your blood pressure, your cholesterol, your weight. Every year, get a flu shot and if something doesn't feel right, get checked out right away. But every two years, you're saying? Should be sufficient if you are feeling good? Reporter: That's right. The key thing, it's to develop a relationship with a doctor you can talk to. The problem is, so many annual visits are about testing and not talking. Your next visit, spend it talking to your doctor about those things that really matter to your health. Stress and sleep and smoking and your weight and exercise and if you do those things during your next visit, it really coul impact on your health. But I can't believe you're not going to hear from a lot of doctors who say that annual visit is what makes the difference. Reporter: I want to hear from them.

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