Since the late 1970s, national expert panels have warned that annual physical examinations or general health checks offer little benefit for asymptomatic individuals, and authors of a recent review of studies reached the same conclusion. Yet patients still ask for, and physicians still perform, these examinations.
The review, by the Cochrane Collaboration, looked at outcome data from 14 randomized trials involving 182 880 participants that compared general health checks with no health checks. The review concluded that general health checks, while increasing the number of new diagnoses for various diseases, did not reduce morbidity or mortality either overall or for cardiovascular or cancer causes and that such examinations were unlikely to be beneficial. The reviewers also did not find an effect of general health checks on hospitalization, disability, worry, additional visits to physicians, or absence from work (Krogsbøll LT et al. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD009009.pub2 [published online October 17, 2012]).