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Is American Medicine Too Test Happy?
Date:12/29/2011

By Dennis Thompson
HealthDay Reporter

THURSDAY, Dec. 29 (HealthDay News) -- If you've had a medical procedure lately, you probably first had blood tests, an imaging test like an MRI or ultrasound, perhaps an electrocardiogram and possibly more.

"Is all this really necessary?" you might have wondered.

That's a question that doctors themselves are now raising as a growing body of evidence suggests that overuse of diagnostic testing may be harming patients' health and driving up health-care costs.

"There is clear overuse or misuse of certain kinds of tests for certain patients," said Dr. Steven E. Weinberger, executive vice president and chief executive officer of the American College of Physicians.

So should doctors exercise more restraint, or should patients take a more active and skeptical role in their care?

Weinberger believes the answer lies somewhere in the middle. "There needs to be an honest conversation in both directions, with a clear understanding about what is and isn't necessary," he said.

Experts agree that excessive testing is costing the U.S. health-care system billions through waste. Weinberger said that some estimates have suggested the cost could run as high as $200 billion to $250 billion a year, an amount equal to about 10 percent of the total amount spent on the nation's health care.

But the true cost is borne by patients who face increased health risks associated with diagnostic testing, he said. Dr. Anthony Shih, executive vice president for programs of the Commonwealth Fund, a private health policy research foundation, agreed.

"Although most patients are aware that procedures carry some risks, they are less aware that tests carry risks," Shih said.

Diagnostic testing, in fact, carries three main risks, Weinberger and Shih said:

  • Risks directly related to the test itself, such as the radiation exposure caused by imaging tests.
  • The risk
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