- Domhnall MacAuley, primary care editor
- 1BMJ, London WC1H 9JR, UK
Routine health checks or periodic health examinations, a term used in North America, are seductive. They seem sensible. If prevention is better than cure then they seem a socially responsible approach to caring for patients. Doctors, politicians, and the public buy into the idea that a systematic routine check can identify health problems at an early stage and put them right. A body maintenance programme—like a vehicle service to ensure we are roadworthy—sounds like a good idea. But not every good idea stands up to critical appraisal.
In a linked systematic review and meta-analysis (doi:10.1136/bmj.e7191), Krogsbøll and colleagues comprehensively searched for randomised controlled trials that examined the effectiveness of health checks in adults in reducing morbidity and mortality.1 Carried out according to the exacting methodological standards of the Cochrane Collaboration, the review analysed data from 14 trials with a variety of interventions and outcomes in different settings.2 The authors found no evidence that general health checks made any difference to any of the studied outcomes. They also concluded that such health checks might increase overdiagnosis.
These findings are important for general practice in many …