Health Conditions

‘Low-Value’ Medical Tests and Procedures

Outdated practices, billing incentives, and patient demand drive ineffective care
BY Mat Lecompte TIMEMarch 20, 2022 PRINT

At what point does the best quality care lose its value?

That’s a question a new report by the American Heart Association (AHA) has attempted to answer. These days, there are several diagnostic tests and procedures that can offer plenty of information to both patients and doctors. But are they worth it?

Just because humans can do something doesn’t necessarily mean they should. And the AHA report states that Americans are receiving too many heart tests and treatments that don’t really do anything.

And all these potentially useless tests can lead to plenty of stress, a loss of time, money spent, and more invasive testing that compounds the stress, time, and money.

“Low-value” medical care is a longstanding issue. AHA data suggest that about half of Americans will receive at least one of these tests or procedures every year. They also account for about 30 percent of annual health care spending in the country.

Low-value tests and procedures span various fields, but when it comes to heart procedures, the AHA identifies three tests in particular: annual stress tests for people who have had angioplasty or surgery to clear blocked arteries, echocardiograms to assess people who have fainted but show no signs or symptoms of heart problems, and coronary calcium tests for people already known to have heart disease.

So, what can you do? You can ask your doctor why you needed these tests. And it’s not that these tests are inherently low-value. However, they aren’t necessary for certain cohorts.

Why do doctors keep doing them? There are a few reasons. One is that doctors continue to apply outdated best practices. These tests may have seemed great 15 years ago, but new data gathered since then show otherwise.

Financial motives may be in play as well. More testing means more services to charge patients for.

Lastly, patients can also play a role. Sometimes they demand unnecessary tests or treatments, and their caregiver obliges.

In any event, it’s a good idea to educate yourself about what specific tests are for and if you need one. Talk to your doctor and ask their opinion, and, of course, why you may need a particular assessment or treatment.

Mat Lecompte
Starting as a journalist over 10 years ago, Mat has not only honed his belief system and approach with practical experience, but he has also worked closely with nutritionists, dieticians, athletes, and fitness professionals. He embraces natural healing methods and believes that diet, exercise and willpower are the foundation of a healthy, happy, and drug-free existence.
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