Finger On The Pulse: Should You Get An Annual Medical Check-Up?

Wellness

February 12, 2018 | BY Dr Andrea Lim

Our health and wellness columnist Dr Andrea Lim discusses the importance of getting a proper health examination and how you should approach the findings of the tests.

Raise your hand if you booked yourself in for a medical check-up in the last year.

Many of us have heard the importance of getting an examination, and healthcare institutions offer a variety of screening packages for the health-conscious, labs offer blood tests that you can purchase, and many companies reward employees with a trip to the hospital as an employment benefit.

So the question is—is the medical check-up effective?

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The National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE) in the UK recommends a health check to those aged 40 and above once every 5 years; whilst in America, a ‘physical’ is generally done annually.

In Malaysia, the onus is on individuals to get themselves to a medical examination. Broadly speaking, check-up packages offered in the market screen for heart disease, stroke, diabetes and kidney disease; but there are also some which include tests for cancer markers and signs of inflammation.

This is where it gets contentious. When tests are unnecessarily carried out, they sometimes find things that appear sinister but are in fact harmless, something professionals call false positives.

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This can result in patients having to undergo extensive exploration with additional tests, and even treatment that they do not need. Not to mention the psychological aspect—all the stress and worry they and their families are put through.

Practically, a lot of professional time is wasted on investigating well patients, and financially billions could go into providing care for those who really need it.

Of course, a health check picks up thousands of silent cases of cardiovascular disease such as high blood pressure and cholesterol, mammograms identify hundreds of cases of early breast cancer, which allow for timely treatment.

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However, it’s also worth noting that false negatives do occur, i.e. a problem is not identified, ending in patients being falsely reassured by the results.

Ultimately, the effectiveness of a medical check-up comes down to the approach—with a strong doctor-patient relationship, which allows for trust and open conversation, and very importantly the rounded approach in every patient’s health status and the individuals requirements.

When there is continuity in care with emphasis put on lifestyle discussions after the investigations on issues such as weight, exercise and diet, a medical check-up certainly brings a lot to the table.

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