Not All Medical Tests Are Helpful

While going through a recent physical exam with my family physician, I asked him to review a newspaper ad sponsored by a major teaching hospital offering a number of different health screenings, many utilizing ultrasound technology. A discount was being offered – the greater number of tests you purchased, the greater your overall savings vs. per-test pricing. I asked questions about the tests and whether any of them would be useful to me and was quite surprised (and pleased) when my doctor said that based on my relatively good health, he saw no need for the tests.

The Congressional Budget Office estimates that up to 30% of U.S. health care expenditures go to tests, procedures, doctor visits, hospital stays and other services that do not improve patient health. The American Board of Internal Medicine and ABIM Foundation have organized a campaign, called Choosing Wisely, to help people get medical treatment they need and avoid care that is not only potentially costly, but medically unnecessary.

To this end, 9 major physicians groups have identified 45 common procedures and tests that are often not needed and sometimes harmful. A few examples include cardiac stress tests, cancer screenings for dialysis patients, x-rays and other imaging at the first occurrence of back pain and brain scans for patients who have fainted, but have no other relevant symptoms.

Experts say that when it comes to determining the need for tests, communication and shared decision making leads to the best outcomes. For more information on overuse or misuse of medical tests and procedures, go to To find information on how to talk to your doctor and ask questions about tests and procedures, visit

To view other articles from the SIP Summer Newsletter, please click here.

In cooperation with NAEBA

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