The headline above is from a CBS News story published on October 18, 2012, which reported on a study published one day earlier showing that routine health check-ups do not provide any health benefit. Several other news outlets also published articles on this study including Medical News Today, Medical Express, CNN Health, and the Wall Street Journal.
This study was conducted by the Cochrane Collaboration, a U.K.-based nonprofit organization that conducts healthcare reviews to help doctors and patients make better healthcare decisions. In discussing the need for this study, the authors wrote, “General health checks are common elements of healthcare in some countries. These aim to detect disease and risk factors for disease with the purpose of reducing morbidity and mortality. Most of the commonly used screening tests offered in general health checks have been incompletely studied. Also, screening leads to increased use of diagnostic and therapeutic interventions, which can be harmful as well as beneficial.”
The study itself was quite large and comprehensive. Cochrane researchers reviewed 14 individual study trials involving approximately 183,000 people. The people in these trials were in two groups. One group received regular checkups while the people in other group did not. The health and mortality of the two groups were compared to see if the regular checkups produced any sort of health advantage.
Over the course of this long-term study a total of 11,940 deaths were reported. However, the analysis showed no difference in the odds of dying between the groups that had the regular check-ups compared to those that did not. These statistics included the death risk due to cancer and heart disease. Additionally, the study also found that routine check-ups had no major impact on hospital admissions, disability, specialist referrals, additional visits to doctors, or time off from work. In essence, regular checkups show no long-term health benefits, but those that had the checkups were subject to additional expenses and treatments that may not have been necessary.
In trying to explain the results of this study, lead author Lasse Krogsboll, a researcher at the Nordic Cochrane Centre in Copenhagen, Denmark, stated in a press release, “From the evidence we’ve seen, inviting patients to general health checks is unlikely to be beneficial. One reason for this might be that doctors identify additional problems and take action when they see patients for other reasons.”
In their conclusion the authors wrote, “General health checks did not reduce morbidity or mortality, neither overall nor for cardiovascular or cancer causes, although the number of new diagnoses was increased. Important harmful outcomes, such as the number of follow-up diagnostic procedures or short term psychological effects, were often not studied or reported and many trials had methodological problems. With the large number of participants and deaths included, the long follow-up periods used, and considering that cardiovascular and cancer mortality were not reduced, general health checks are unlikely to be beneficial. “