Unnecessary Tests - Part B

Research shows that unnecessary lab tests are contributing to the high cost of health care. Our series on cutting health costs continues with some advice on how you can avoid having tests that are not truly necessary.

Screening tests like mammography or a pap smear are a proven way to diagnose medical problems earlier, and in the long run - cut medical costs. Chest x-rays used to be a routine part of the annual physical exam, until research showed that they turn up very little in people without symptoms. Some physicians question the cost and the radiation exposure

Dr. Jack Hatawy is with the Alabama Department of Public Health, "Anyone who's going to have to undergo testing of any sort whether it's a few or a lot should always make sure they understand what they're going to get, and why, and be comfortable in those discussions and decisions. They need to be part of their own health care. So it's always important to be very informed and very involved in what happens to you."

There are 44 million people in this country who have no health care coverage. Family insurance premiums are up 14% to $2400 this year the largest jump since 1990 and the third straight year of double digit increases. So there are plenty of people looking for ways to cut their health costs.

Do your homework; research the tests; and feel free to talk with your doctor.

Quick Tips - When Getting Medical Tests
(from The Agency for Healthcare Research & Quality)

The single most important way you can stay healthy is to be an active member of your own health care team. One way to get high-quality health care is to find and use information and take an active role in all of the discussions made about your care.

This information will help you when making decisions about medical tests.

Doctors order blood tests, x-rays, and other tests to help diagnose medical problems. Perhaps you do not know why you need a particular test or you don't understand how it will help you. Here are some questions to ask:

  • How is the test done?
  • What kind of information will the test provide?
  • Is this test the only way to find out that information?
  • What are the benefits and risks of having this test?
  • How accurate is the test?
  • What do I need to do to prepare for the test? (What you do or don't do may affect the accuracy of the test results.)
  • Will the test be uncomfortable?
  • How long will it take to get the results, and how will I get them?
  • What's the next step after the test?

One study found that anywhere from 10% to 30% of Pap smear test results that were called "normal" were not. Errors such as this can lead to a wrong or delayed diagnosis. You want your tests to be done the right way, and you want accurate results.

What can you do?

  • For tests your doctor sends to a lab, ask which lab he or she uses, and why. You may want to know that the doctor chooses a certain lab because he or she has business ties to it. Or, the health plan may require that the tests go there.
  • Check to see that the lab is accredited by a group such as the College of American Pathologists (800-323-4040) or the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (telephone, 630-792-5800; Web site, http://www.jcaho.org).

What about the test results?

  • Do not assume that no news is good news. If you do not hear from your doctor, call to get your test results.
  • If you and your doctor think the test results may not be right, have the test done again.

Remember, quality matters, especially when it comes to your health.

Quick Tips—When Getting Medical Tests. AHRQ Publication No. 01-0040b, May 2002. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Rockville, MD. http://www.ahrq.gov/consumer/quick tips/tiptests.htm