This past summer, I spent a great deal of time working on several research projects. One project involved surveying physicians about wasteful practices. I, also, am trying to develop a tool to reduce some of these practices. In my spare time, I researched everything I could about wasteful testing in medicine and now I can pass on what I have learned to my readers. Our nation, instead of setting the standard in healthcare, is falling behind the curve. One of the reasons healthcare costs are so high is because more and more tests are being ordered. We live in a fantastic era of technology. Great minds are coming up with tests to screen for almost every disease out there. We can tell you how susceptible you are to a disease or the chances your child will inherit a recessive genetic defect you may have. Each test, diagnosis, and treatment comes with its own set of pros and cons. Don’t misunderstand, there are tests that should definitely be done and treatment started immediately. But somewhere back down the road, we adopted this theory that everything must be tested and treated. If it can be diagnosed, it can and should be treated. Not necessarily.
We go to the doctor to feel better. We usually expect that to come in some form of treatment. Unnecessary treatment could almost be as bad as an illness in some cases. Advanced tests may be able to detect certain illnesses earlier than before, so early that the need for treatment is not needed yet. Also, continuous testing increases the chances of receiving false positives. But if a doctor tells us we are ill, shouldn’t we start treatment right away? Some drugs and treatment are designed for different stages in a disease. Starting the treatment too early can cause adverse effects to one’s health. The doctor will undoubtedly want more tests to confirm his diagnosis and additional testing to track the progress of the disease. Healthcare costs continue to rise which could be avoided with not giving that first test.
Do we blame doctors for ordering so many tests? They are just trying to be the best doctor they can be and not miss an uncommon diagnosis. Some fear malpractice suits or just fear for the safety of there patients. How can we fix this? One of the driving forces being developed to lower healthcare costs is the advent of shared decision making. The doctor and patient need to have equal weight in the choice of testing and treatment of the patient. The doctor is an expert in the medicine, while the patient is the expert on his or herself. Educate yourself on the current medicine out there for your possible illness and don’t be afraid to have a conversation with your doctor. In the end, it is your body and your choice of what to do with it.