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General health checks increase the number of new diagnoses

In an article published in the journal Evidence Based Nursing, I comment on a recent Cochrane review of general health checks. These are checks that aim to detect risk factors and diseases in healthy people, with the aim of either preventing a disease from developing, or treating a disease earlier in its course. The systematic review of randomised controlled trials (RCTs) of general health checks found that they did not reduce morbidity or mortality, but did increase the number of new diagnoses. The review did though have several limitations. The trials included differed markedly in their definition of what constituted a ‘general health check’ and in the disease they were aiming to address. They also differed in how any newly identified risk factors or disease would be managed. In many studies, the only intervention offered was brief lifestyle advice. Some of the trials were also old, dating from the 1960s. Many of the currently available risk reduction interventions (such as the widespread use of electronic patient records for targeting specific patient groups, tools for measuring individual cardiovascular risk, and low-cost statins for primary prevention) were unavailable at the time most of these trials were carried out.

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