Today, approximately 177,000 Americans will visit a doctor, even though they have absolutely no symptoms. There is no standardized procedure for the annual health exam. Some doctors limit themselves to a brief interview and a once-over with the stethoscope. Others add-on some useful, or at least arguably useful, preventive health procedures like mammograms, cholesterol checks, and prostate-specific antigen tests. Many order a series of laboratory tests that are unnecessary and often counterproductive in healthy adults, like a complete blood count or urinalysis.
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.
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