Is medical over-testing causing Americans more harm than good?

Apr 6, 2012

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A high-speed Cat Scan at the newly-opened Berenson Emergency Department at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center sits empty July 16, 2001 in Boston, Massachusetts. Credit: Darren McCollester/Getty Images

A pap smear every three years? Adieu to regular prostate-specific antigen (P.S.A) screenings? Recent guidelines issued by the American Cancer Society, plus a campaign called “Choosing Wisely,” coordinated by the ABIM Foundation for the advancement of medical professionalism, have added fuel to the fire surrounding the topic of medical over-testing.

For a long time a variety of health care providers have argued that too much testing has significant fiscal impact, but recent reports have shifted focus, claiming that too much testing can cause physical harm. Over-aggressive treatments for HPV lesions in women under 21 have been said to lead to “cervical incompetence and miscarriages” down the road, for instance. Other potentially unnecessary tests for healthy individuals include stress imaging during annual check-ups and CT scans for chronic sinusitis.


Have you received medical tests you thought unnecessary? Do you feel comfortable with the new screening guidelines? How well does your doctor communicate with you about why you need the tests and procedures he or she prescribes?


Kavita K. Patel, adjunct assistant clinical professor at UCLA’s Geffen School of Medicine; she helped with the guidelines

Kathryn Nix, health care policy analyst for the Heritage Foundation, a conservative research group

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