Recently the health insurance company Cigna teamed up with a bunch of actors from several medical TV shows (including M*A*S*H, House, Grey's Anatomy, and Scrubs) to create a rather brilliantly funny advertisement reminding people to get their annual checkups. In case you haven't seen it, here is one of them:
Ha ha! Classic. I love self-deprecation from actors. And this is a great cause with solid advice. After all, what could be wrong with reminding people to get a checkup if is going to save lives?
Well, here is the problem: there is no evidence that annual physicals actually save lives. Yes, you heard me right. Seriously. A Cochrane review of 14 randomised trials involving over 180,000 subjects showed that people who had general health exams were more likely to have new diagnoses and they were more likely to start on medication for high blood pressure or high cholesterol. While that may sound good, there was unfortunately no improvement in deaths or overall health in patients who had annual physicals versus those who did not. Cochrane's conclusion was,