Public expectations and attitudes for annual physical examinations and testing

Ann Intern Med. 2002 May 7;136(9):652-9. doi: 10.7326/0003-4819-136-9-200205070-00007.


Background: Recent guidelines for adult prevention do not recommend a comprehensive annual physical examination, but current public expectations in light of this change are unknown.

Objective: To determine public belief in the need for and content of an annual physical examination and to examine the effect of financial charges on these beliefs.

Design: Telephone survey.

Setting: Three U.S. cities.

Participants: Adult English-speaking respondents.

Measurements: Percentage of respondents answering that an annual physical examination is necessary and percentage desiring individual components of the history, physical examination, and laboratory testing, with and without knowledge of charges.

Results: Of 1203 respondents, 66% (67% in Denver, Colorado; 71% in Boston, Massachusetts; and 58% in San Diego, California) believed that in addition to regular care, an annual physical examination is necessary. Among the 600 respondents presented with charge information, interest decreased from 63% to 33% if payment were required. For history, greater than 90% believed that diet, exercise, and tobacco and alcohol use should be discussed, while 60% believed that seatbelt use and sexual history should be discussed. For the physical examination, greater than 90% felt that blood pressure should be measured and that the heart and lungs, abdomen, reflexes, and prostate should be examined. However, fewer than 80% thought that hearing and vision should be tested. Many tests, including the Papanicolaou smear (75%), mammography (71%), cholesterol measurement (65%), prostate-specific antigen test (65%), urinalysis (40%), blood glucose measurement (41%), fecal occult blood testing (39%), and chest radiography (36%), were desired. Interest in these tests decreased substantially when the charges were known.

Conclusion: Public desire for a comprehensive annual physical examination is high across the United States and is sensitive to charges.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attitude to Health*
  • Costs and Cost Analysis
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice
  • Humans
  • Physical Examination* / economics
  • Practice Guidelines as Topic
  • Preventive Health Services* / economics
  • Public Opinion*
  • Regression Analysis
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Telephone
  • Time Factors
  • United States