Ask Dr. Peters: Is the annual physical exam really important?

Dr. Justus PetersBy Justus Peters, M.D.

A study that compiled information from over 180,000 patients in Denmark showed no improvement in longevity of life in those who went to annual exams versus those who only went when they had a problem. On average, about 7 percent of people died in each group, suggesting there was no mortality benefit to getting annual exams.

This study is flawed on account that each group did end up seeing a physician at some time in their life. One group just got diagnosed with high blood pressure and high cholesterol more.

What the study should have been showing is what the difference is in those who do the annual exam and those who NEVER see a physician. I think that would show a benefit in mortality between the number of people who see a physician versus those who don’t.

However, back to the study. The fact that both groups saw a physician suggests that healthy individuals who see a physician only when needed probably do not have higher co-morbidities, such as diabetes or high blood pressure.

So the importance of the annual physical exam remains the standard of care for all individuals. Finding that one melanoma on the skin could be the difference between life and death, just as seeing the one abnormal lead on an EKG warns of pending heart troubles.

Annual exams are important really for three main reasons:

  1. Find cancer. The annual Pap smear, mammogram, prostate exam and the colonoscopy are the best methods for preventive care in finding cancers.
  2. Find coronary heart disease. Complaints of chest discomfort, tightness, decrease in exercise tolerance and shortness of breath all point to possible cardiac or pulmonary diseases that can be looked further into.
  3. Find chronic diseases. Finding diabetes, hypercholesterolemia, autoimmune disorders and degenerative musculoskeletal disorders help physicians assist patients to improve their quality of life, and therefore their life expectancy.

I hope you all enjoy the articles. Email me with any questions at

Dr. Justus Turner Peters, a family physician at Glen Rose Medical Center’s Pecan Plantation clinic, received his medical school training at Creighton University School of Medicine in Nebraska and completed his family medicine residency at John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth. Board-certified in family medicine, Dr. Peters’ practice encompasses the care of infants and children as well as adults of all ages. He also conducts ongoing research in the areas of childhood obesity and lower extremity injuries. He serves as the Somervell County Local Health Authority.





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