Why Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel Doesn't Believe In Annual Physical Exams

Bioethicist Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel made waves earlier this month with his New York Times op-ed about how annual physical exams — arguably the cornerstone of preventive medicine — are a waste of time and money.

At the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Emanuel continued to make his case against the preventive health measure in an interview with HuffPost Live’s Jonathan Cohn, saying that overwhelming data from studies involving tens of thousands of people show that the annual exam makes no difference when it comes to improving health outcomes or extending lives.

Of course, Emanuel clarified, his position is only that healthy people with no existing conditions, complaints or symptoms should skip their annual.

“I’m not saying don’t go to the doctor when you have a complaint, or if you have an ongoing health problem, like you’ve got diabetes or high cholesterol or high blood pressure or cardiac risk factors,” he said. Emanuel also emphasized the importance of certain screening exams, like the mammogram, colonoscopy and the pap smear, to overall health. But an annual physical exam isn’t needed in addition to those regularly scheduled tests, he explained.

“Everyone’s talking about doctor shortage and all these other things -- well, if we’re spending time with healthy people who don’t really need to be seen, that takes time away from sick people who really do need the time,” Emanuel continued.

Eventually, Emanuel predicts that annual physical exams will become obsolete once national health store chains like CVS and Walgreens install an infrastructure to collect blood samples and send them to your doctor -- especially crucial for things like high cholesterol, which can creep up over time with no symptoms. After getting the results, said Emanuel, your doctor will email you to either congratulate you on your health or work with you to create some lifestyle changes. And it'll be all over email, and without the need for an annual physical exam.

"That’s the wave of the future,” said Emanuel. "The idea that you have to go in to see your doctor for 15 or 30 minutes to get a blood test is ludicrous!"

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