You complain about a few symptoms and before you know it, you are scheduled for blood analysis, urine screenings, and expensive diagnostic scans like MRIs. With your insurance deductible, most of this comes out of your pocket – which could be hundreds to thousands depending on your level of coverage. Even when the deductible is paid up, your insurer pays thousands for these tests – and most were unnecessary.
Your physician could be ordering these tests to be cautious. Perhaps they even claim they want to be thorough. Often, these tests are unnecessary and you could be the victim of unnecessary medical tests.
In some cases, these tests or procedures lead to serious injuries. Other times, it diminishes the level of care the patient receives, affects diagnostic reliability, and could allow a patient’s condition to go undetected for months.
Unnecessary Testing and Medical Procedures – More Common Than You Think
Some experts estimate that there is $200 billion wasted each year on unnecessary medical tests and treatments. Physicians who are overly aggressive with these procedures cause unnecessary harm. It is estimated that unnecessary treatments and tests cause 30,000 deaths per year.
The Washington Health Alliance, a non-profit organization that works to make care better for patients, reviewed over 1.3 million claims and flagged those that were unnecessary, overused, and dangerous.
What they found in just one year’s worth of claims includes:
- Over 600,000 patients went through treatments that were medically unnecessary – those treatments cost a collective $282 million.
- More than one-third of the money spent on the tests identified went to those that were unnecessary.
- Needless annual heart tests accounted for $40 million, and the patients were all low-risk.
- Approximately 85 percent of the low-risk surgical patients had unnecessary laboratory testing that cost $86 million.
- Three out of four cervical cancer screening sessions were completed on women who had prior screenings and did not need another – costing $19 million.
What Are the Most Common Unnecessary Tests?
When it comes to health, you may think that more is better. While this can apply to specific situations, testing that does nothing to diagnose or improve your health is not better. Instead, it raises insurance premiums, costs you out-of-pocket, and in the end, everyone pays.
Here are some of the more common unnecessary tests ordered:
- The Annual Pap Smear Test – For years, you have probably heard that you should get an annual pap smear once a year. So, like clockwork, you follow the rules and schedule the test. You should still go in once a year and discuss symptoms and concerns, but only then should you decide if the pap test is necessary based on your symptoms. Right now, women between the ages of 30 to 65 years only need a screening done every three years.
- Imaging Tests for Back Pain – Back pain can be debilitating. But if you are receiving imaging scans for general back pain, you could be spending thousands in unnecessary tests too. According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, an MRI for back pain is unnecessary. Imaging scans often reveal something wrong that has nothing to do with back pain, which leads to unnecessary treatments that are unhelpful and could be outright dangerous. If the back pain is accompanied with a high fever, unexplained weight loss, or other serious symptoms, then an MRI is necessary. Back pain alone should be treated first.
- Teeth Polishing from the Dentist – After you have your teeth examined and the hygienist reaches for the polishing materials, you could decline and save yourself the unnecessary charge. While it makes your teeth feel smoother, it is unnecessary as part of regular oral health. If the hygienist uses too much pressure to polish, they could damage the enamel of your tooth – only making things worse in the end.
- Dental Visits Every 6 Months – You have been told all your life to see the dentist every six months, but not everyone needs two check-ups per year. Everyone has their risk factors and plaque buildup rates. Those with low risk and minimal plaque could get away with once a year check-ups – sometimes more according to Prevention.
- Cardiac Stress Tests – The American College of Cardiology (ACC) says that an annual cardiac stress test is unnecessary for most patients. If you do not have the symptoms or risk factors (you have low blood pressure and are in good health), you are wasting benefits. Doing these tests even as a “just in case” when you are healthy and have no reason to suspect cardiac complications costs you hundreds per year.
- Bone Density Testing – Bone density testing is only necessary when you are over the age of 65, or you have the risk factors. Risk factors include low vitamin D levels, drinking or smoking heavily, low body weight, or long-term use of certain medications. Also, if you were to do the test (which may show an only minor bone loss), you are likely to be given a prescription. These prescriptions have serious side effects and often do not help as expected.
- Surgery for Meniscal Cartilage Tears – When you tear your meniscus, you will experience severe pain. To ease that pain quickly, your physician will suggest surgery to repair it. Repairing it surgically offers few benefits, and you could save yourself the risks of unnecessary surgery by sticking it out with rehabilitation and therapy.
- Antibiotic Prescriptions – Antibiotic prescribing is by far the most unnecessary. Patients will see their doctor for a viral infection, receive an antibiotic, and notice that they do not improve. The high use of antibiotics has increased the number of antibiotic-resistant bacterium, which can be life-threatening.
- PSA for Prostate Cancer – One laboratory test you could check off the list at your annual physical is the PSA. If you have no symptoms and you are not at high risk, doing the test is unnecessary. Furthermore, PSA levels often create false positives. In one estimate, 75 percent of those abnormally high PSA levels turned out to be false.
- PET Scans for Alzheimer’s – Alzheimer’s is still being researched and the exact cause is unknown. While some research suggests PET scans can help with early detection, the purpose is unnecessary. There is no cure or treatment for Alzheimer’s. Instead, medications help delay the onset of symptoms or manage symptoms. Also, PET scans may not pick up the plaques that are indicative of Alzheimer’s.
- Ultrasounds after Ovarian Cysts – Repeated ultrasounds to check on ovarian cysts are often unnecessary. Post-menopausal women often develop these cysts that turn out to be benign. Constantly ordering ultrasounds will cost some patient thousands and may still not detect cancer.
- Colonoscopies after 75 – Starting at age 50, you should have a colon screening followed by another screening every five to 10 years after that. Once you reach 75, most physicians find the test unnecessary because the risk and preparation at that age could be life-threatening.
- Yearly Physicals – Few evidence exists proving the purpose of an annual physical. If you think about your last physical appointment, you most likely sat in the office, filled out a form, had vitals taken, and maybe had a few lab tests with nothing to report. Unless you have symptoms or a concern, these appointments might be more of a waste of your time. Most physicians would agree that doing physicals for health instead of just to meet a calendar expectation is best.
How to Protect Yourself from Unnecessary Testing and Procedures
If you want to avoid these unnecessary tests and procedures, discuss your options with your physician. Some things you can do include:
- Ask why the test is necessary, what your physician intends to find, and where they would go if test results were inconclusive.
- Discuss alternative tests that might be less invasive but still effective at ruling out anything serious.
- Speak with your insurance company about annual screenings that are covered versus tests that are not. Then, find out from your physician how necessary those tests are in order to get a correct diagnosis.
- Never be afraid to question a test or procedure you feel is excessive. If you feel fine but your physician is ordering numerous diagnostic tests, request a second opinion before moving forward.
Did a Physician’s Unnecessary Testing or Procedure Injure You?
When you are injured because of a physician’s unnecessary tests or procedures, you have the right to hold them financially and professionally responsible. To explore your options, you need to speak with a medical malpractice attorney.
An attorney will review the medical records with other medical experts and decide if the tests were unnecessary, if there were safer alternatives, and the damages that these tests or procedures caused you.