MONDAY, Nov. 19 (HealthDay News) -- Many Medicare patients undergo some kind of repeat medical testing, a new study finds. But it's unclear whether giving the same test twice protects recipients' health or just piles on costs to an already overburdened system.
"There is a substantial amount of retesting," said study co-author Kevin Hayes, a policy analyst at the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission in Washington, D.C. "There are also limited practice guidelines to help physicians understand when it's a good idea to repeat a test and when it's not."
That depends, said an expert who's familiar with the study findings.
"There is retesting for good reasons and there is retesting for bad reasons," said Dr. Nick Fitterman, director of the hospitalist program and chief of staff at Huntington Hospital, in Huntington, N.Y. Good reasons for retesting include when test results are botched, tests to check the effectiveness of a treatment and to monitor an ongoing condition, he suggested.
But other factors that lead to possibly unneeded testing are patient demand and fear of being sued for malpractice, he said.
The new report was published in the Nov. 19 online edition of the Archives of Internal Medicine.
Researchers looked at testing in a random sample of 5 percent of Medicare patients from January 2004 through December 2006. They focused on the tests most often repeated in the 50 largest U.S. cities.
For six common tests, one-third to one-half were repeated during the three-year period. "This finding raises the question whether some physicians are routinely repeating diagnostic tests," the study authors wrote.
Fifty-five percent of patients who underwent a heart test called an echocardiogram had a second such test. In addition, 44 percent of those who had an imaging stress test had another within three years.
The pattern continued for 49 pe
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