Bad Medicine: Doctor Appointments You Should Skip
No More Yearly Checkups
You know the annual physical drill: Blood pressure -- check! Eyes, ears, throat -- check! Blood test (ouch) -- check! But the surprising truth is that "many of these tests don't help promote health or prevent disease," says Miriam Alexander, MD, the director of the general preventive medicine residency program at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore. "They're just what we've always done."
In fact, a research review concluded that routine medical tests failed to reduce rates of disease, hospitalization, or death. What they can lead to, however, is further testing. "When you run tests, you raise the risk of false positives. That means more tests or trips to a specialist even though there was no reason to run the test in the first place," Dr. Alexander says.
That's not to say you should ditch your doc altogether. It's important to have a physician for when you get sick, and there are certain screenings and vaccinations that you do need over the years. So some experts are calling for a "periodic well visit" instead of an annual checkup. Your doc would focus on preventive behaviors like eating right and exercising and on helping you eliminate disease risk factors such as smoking and weight gain. The two of you would discuss your family's medical history and which tests you truly need to check for heart disease, diabetes and various cancers. Patients with particular risk factors would see a doctor more regularly.
The bottom line: Until periodic well visits become the norm, experts say that if you do opt to get physicals, you may not need to go every year.So Long, Stirrups!
Imagine going to your gyno and not spending the appointment staring at the ceiling with your knees in the air. "Until the Pap test was introduced, a woman didn't go to the ob-gyn unless she was pregnant or had symptoms like pain or bleeding," Dr. Westhoff says. When the Pap became standard in the late 1940s, so did the yearly gyno exam. But in 2012, based on new research, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) told its members to dial back on the Pap test and give it every three years; for women 30 and older who combine it with a test for human papillomavirus (HPV), the recommendation is every five years.
The reason: Although the Pap can be a lifesaver, there is no benefit to screening on an annual basis, because cervical cancer is slow growing. "If you do Pap smears frequently, you'll get some results that are 'not normal' but aren't cancer," Dr. Alexander says. "Patients might then be ordered to have uncomfortable additional testing, which causes anxiety and can, in rare cases, lead to severe complications."
As for annual pelvic exams, women simply don't need them, research has found. The exams are not necessary to screen for ovarian and uterine cancers or sexually transmitted infections, and they don't need to be done before a woman starts taking oral contraceptives. "Gradually, more and more ob-gyns are realizing that the pelvic exam doesn't have to be done so frequently," Dr. Westhoff says.
The bottom line: The ACOG still recommends an annual gyno visit, but unless you have a medical problem or new symptoms, you probably don't need a pelvic exam between Pap tests, Dr. Westhoff says.
What do you think of this story? Leave a Comment.