Do you think your doctor orders too many tests?

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It's often unnecessary to have a whole battery of medical tests.
It's often unnecessary to have a whole battery of medical tests.

You might hear people complaining that doctors order too many tests… But do they really? Older Americans tend to think so.

Of the more than 2 000 respondents aged 50 to 80, just 14% thought that "more is better", according to the National Poll on Healthy Aging.

There is no data on the attitude of South Africans toward this issue. 

Drugs that aren't necessary

In fact, 54% said they believe that healthcare providers often recommend tests, medications or procedures that patients don't really need. Other significant findings include:

  • One in four poll participants said their healthcare providers often order tests or prescribe drugs that aren't necessary.
  • One in six said this had happened to them in the past year.
  • About half said they'd had the test or filled the prescription.

However, about 10% said their doctor or other healthcare provider had told them that a test or medication they'd asked for wasn't needed. Most said the provider explained why, but 40% didn't completely understand the explanation.

The poll was conducted by the University of Michigan Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation.

"The findings suggest patients and providers need to work together more to prevent overuse of healthcare services that provide the least value to patients," Dr Jeffrey Kullgren said in a university news release. He designed the poll and analysed its results.

Cutting healthcare costs

"Patients should speak up when they aren't sure if a test or medication recommended to them is needed," he advised. "And providers need to communicate about how a particular service will – or will not – affect the patient's health, both when they're recommending it and when a patient has requested it."

Alison Bryant, AARP's (American Association of Retired Persons) senior vice president for research, seemed to agree.

"These survey results show us that more attention needs to be focused on improving communication between patients and doctors," Bryant said in the news release.

"Encouraging patients and doctors to routinely discuss the need for recommended procedures and medications should help prevent unnecessary treatments and cut healthcare costs," she said.

However, in these situations it is better to err on the side of caution – which means that great care needs to be taken when deciding what constitutes unnecessary treatment.  

Image credit: iStock

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