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How Many Medical Tests are Too Many?


A report published earlier this year in the Journal of the American Medical Association confirms what many of us have suspected for years: the American medical system performs far too many tests on its patients.

But blame for the problem does not lie solely with doctors. The report, titled Choosing Wisely, found that while doctors perform too many procedures, too many patients also demand far too many tests.

This report, compiled based on the recommendations of nine medical associations representing about 375,000 physicians, shines a light on what many feel is a driving force behind bloated medical costs in the United States. A tremendous percentage of our annual health care spending actually pays for tests, scans, examinations and treatments that do not help patients and, in some cases, may actually be harmful to them.

Here is a short sample of the findings and recommendations made by the report:

  • There is no practical reason for doctors to scan for lower back pain within six weeks of the presentation of that pain unless other symptoms or underlying conditions are present.
  • Annual EKGs and heart screens are unnecessary for low-risk patients presenting no sign of heart disease.
  • For an average-risk patient, there’s no need to repeat colorectal cancer screening for 10 years following a negative colonoscopy.
  • Doctors should not prescribe antibiotics or order sinus CT scans for simple sinus infections.
  • An uncomplicated headache does not require a medical scan.

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