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Millions squandered in unnecessary tests ordered in routine doctor visits

Washington, DC -- Unnecessary medical tests are costing the U.S. health care system millions--and potentially billions-- of dollars per year, and add unnecessary patient stress, say researchers from Georgetown University Medical Center and Johns Hopkins University in the June issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

Not only are the tests unwarranted, but false-positive results lead to further tests and compound the expense, says the study's lead author, Dan Merenstein, MD, an assistant professor in the Department of Family Medicine at Georgetown.

"Many physicians, as well as their patients, appear to believe that a routine health exam should include a number of tests they feel can screen for unknown diseases, but the evidence shows that some of these tests are less than beneficial when used in this way," he said. "More is not always better, and understanding this is especially important now that Medicare has begun to reimburse complete physicals."

The study looked at recommendations of the United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF), a panel of experts that grades preventive screening measures based on evidence of their effectiveness. The researchers focused on "C" and "D" tests to see how often they were being used in routine patient visits. In asymptomatic patients, a "C" test are those tests the panel made no recommendation for use. "D" tests, are those which the panel recommended against as risks outweigh the benefits.

These "C" and "D" procedures fell into two categories: "interventions"--this includes an electrocardiogram (EKG) that records heart activity and X-rays − and procedures that are analyzed in a laboratory: a urinalysis; a hematocrit which measures volume of red blood cells in blood; and a complete blood count, or CBC, which measures red and white blood cells and platelets, in blood.

To conduct the study, the researchers reviewed data from the National Ambulatory Medical Care S
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Contact: Liz McDonald
eem6@georgetown.edu
202-687-5100
Georgetown University Medical Center
19-May-2006


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