Star Tribune is wrong about experts recommending annual physicals

Just last week we wrote about some of the problems with a TV station’s continuing “Know Your Numbers” campaign.  Now the Star Tribune fuels the “Know Your Numbers” obsession with a front page story in its Variety section today.

There’s nothing wrong with the article’s reminders about blood pressure, total cholesterol, blood sugar, BMI and waist size.  But the article’s last line is simply wrong. It states:

“health experts recommend a physical exam once a year, at which time these very important numbers can be discussed.”

Hmm.  Which experts are those?

A VA Evidence-based Synthesis Program Evidence brief – coincidentally written by doctors in the Star Tribune’s home town – concludes:

“Comprehensive routine physical examinations are not recommended for the asymptomatic adult.”

An article in the American College of Physicians’ magazine was entitled, “Rethinking the value of the annual exam.” It began:

“One constant in medical care is the persistent notion of the value of the annual physical. There’s no strong evidence base for the periodic health exam, as it’s now often called, as a discrete encounter, and no consensus on what it should include.”

And this is not new.  The US Preventive Services Task Force 18 years ago “rejected the traditional emphasis on a standardized annual physical examination as an effective tool for improving the health of patients.”

So who are the experts to which the Star Tribune refers?  This is the kind of broad sweeping statement encouraging the healthy to look harder to prove they are sick that many news media messages thoughtlessly promote.

And we will call them out on it whenever we see it.  It’s inaccurate.  It’s imbalanced.  It’s bad journalism.  And despite what might be the best of intentions, it could result in avoidable harm.


Susan Perry, who writes the Second Opinion column on, wrote to me about at least one more problem with the Star Tribune story.  She points out that the story says:

“…kiosks at pharmacies and grocery stores make it convenient to get (blood pressure) readings.”

But Perry points to warnings about the accuracy of such kiosk blood pressure monitors – as in this Mayo Clinic expert’s advice when asked whether BP machines in grocery stores and drugstores are accurate:

“Not accurate enough to make health decisions regarding your blood pressure.

The blood pressure machines that you can use free of charge in many grocery stores, drugstores and other locations may have been accurate when first installed. But in order to stay accurate, they must be maintained and recalibrated. Generally, no information is available to the user regarding the care of these devices. As a result, the reading you get has limited value because it may be incorrect.”

So the Star Tribune article made one practice sound as if it were universally endorsed, when it is actually widely questioned.  And it promoted the convenience of another practice about which there are big questions of value and accuracy.  Two for two.  Anyone want to go for three?


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