Unnecessary repeat cholesterol tests are regrettably common, says a recent study by researchers from the Michael E. DeBakey Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Houston.
33% of the patients followed by the study had a cholesterol test within the last year of their most recent test. Only 6% of those patients had any change in their treatment after the second test, leading researchers to conclude that the extra tests are unnecessary. Ohio State University’s Michael Johansen blames the high number of unnecessary tests on healthcare incentives that reward doctors for exceeding cholesterol test quotas.
The VA findings are part of a larger problem: unnecessary medical tests continue to plague the American healthcare system.
In 2009, an appalling $765 billion was spent on healthcare waste. Of that, $210 billion went towards needless services, such as unnecessary medical tests.
In February, 2013, the American Board of Internal Medicine (ABIM) Foundation released a list of 90 unnecessary medical tests and procedures.
In 2009, the US Preventative Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommended that women schedule a mammogram every three years, rather than every single year. This report predictably came under a hailstorm of criticism from the radiological community, even though the USPSTF study was backed by evidence showing that mammograms performed every three years are just as effective as yearly ones.
The Scientific American explains that many women receive mastectomies for harmless cancers that need no treatment. Not only is this costly, but it also can create serious health risks that a small, benign cancer would never create.
Doctors like Daniel Barocas of Vanderbilt University Medical Center urge their colleagues to have facilitate honest discussions with their patients. Not all cancers are dangerous and need to be removed, Barocas emphasizes.
It’s important to know just how unnecessary medical tests can be so costly. A simple blood test requires the sample to be taken, sent to a lab, examined, and then results must be sent to the primary care doctor. All of these steps are costly, even if the test comes back negative. The same holds true for every other kind of test or procedure that isn’t needed. The costs add up quickly.
While medical professionals stress that doctors need to stop treating patients as if they are consumers that, it also is important for patients to become aware of the costs and dangers of unnecessary medical tests. An unnecessary CT scan is expensive and can needlessly expose you to radiation.
Be sure to talk to your doctor thoroughly about whether a test is necessary and if you don’t feel comfortable, you can always seek a second opinion.