Over the past few months there have been many conversations about the role of the annual physical for a typical, healthy adult who isn’t experiencing any kind of ‘urgent’ symptoms. Certainly these annual visits aren’t doing any harm (beyond the economic costs for some, gains for others) and in some small percentage of visits they have uncovered some simmering major health issue, as evidenced in Sumathi Reddy’s recent piece in the Wall Street Journal. The question: should the expectation of an annual check up be moved to two or three years going forward?

Why Keep Up Annual Visits?

Some argue the annual visit is ideal for building the doctor-patient relationship where mental health issues–along with age-appropriate concerns–can be flagged, while others say the likelihood of uncovered issues is so rare that when captured down the road really doesn’t impact quality-of-life or long-term cure rates.

I say if we are required to now have insurance then let’s make sure we get the pro-active value of owning policies. Regardless if the doctor finds something, an annual checkup reminds the patient, for even the shortest amount of time, the importance of taking care of one’s self.  Seems to me that with so many uninsured people prior to the ACA, the least we can be doing is all spending 20 minutes in a room with a doctor once a year.

Changing the Locations of Care

For me the question might become ‘does the check-up have to be in the office?’  With the advent of telehealth and the increasing clinical value of a smart phone with remote health capabilities, can the annual check-up be less of a physical engagement but rather a simple home-kiosk experience? Yes, this means that those who can afford a phone, etc. might have access to ‘care’ in this method, but with pharmacies trying to build ‘clinics’ and with every library offering free internet access aren’t these barriers coming down?

Healthcare will continue to evolve and I think the drivers aren’t just how often one needs to visit your doctor – but rather how the doctor is able to receive patient information.