Yesterday, the media was a buzz with the latest recommendations from lead medical organizations about overused tests and treatments.
Maggie Fox from NBC news states, "You don’t need an MRI for lower back pain. You don’t need antibiotics for a sinus infection. And you don’t need to be screened for osteoporosis, either, if you’re under 65. " The Washington Post's headline reads "Group releases list of 90 medical ‘don’ts.’" The New York Times similarly describes this report as a list of "don'ts."
All this stems from the Choosing Wisely initiative from the non-profit American Board of Internal Medicine foundation in conjunction with Consumer Reports. The group ask most of the major physician specialty societies to come up with al list of the most common unnecessary things done in medicine. Each group came up with the top 5, to comprise a list of 90 commonly overused tests and treatments. A few examples include:
•A feeding tube in patients with advanced dementia. (American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine and American Geriatrics Society)
•A routine annual Pap test if you’re 30 or older, or under 21. (American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists).
•DEXA (dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry) screening for osteoporosis in women under 65 or men under 70, unless there’s a suspicion of bone loss.
•A CT scan for a child with a minor head injury. (American Academy of Pediatrics)
This work is important as due to our fee for service system that reimburses for ordering tests and treatments whether or not they are effective or worthwhile, has proven to be costly and inefficient. Thus, cutting unnecessary testing or treatment in medicine will both save money and potentially reduce harm. For example, in many ER's across the country, almost all children that come in after a head injury get a CT scan. Not only has this not been proven to be effective, but radiating a child's head can increase the risk for cancer.
However, a word of caution.....
Based on the headlines, one might think that these tests or treatments should never be done. Two major media outlets call these a list of "don'ts." However, this is not what the experts were saying. These are commonly overused tests and treatments, not useless. There might be very good reasons to get a CT scan after a head injury in a child that outweigh the very small potential increase risk for cancer. It is very important to understand this because it is possible that insurances and/or the government will use these recommendations to determine reimbursement. While it is correct that physicians and patients should question the routine use of these tests or treatments, patients and doctors shouldn't have to fight with insurance companies to use these tests and treatments when they feel it is necessary. Finally, if as a patient you question your physician about a test or treatment they recommend (which is the entire purpose of the Choosing Wisely campaign), be prepared to sign something that states you won't sue them should your refusal of their recommendation turn out to be wrong. While the Choosing Wisely campaign starts to address the problems with our fee for service reimbursement system, it fails to address the other major driver of health care costs- malpractice. Many physicians would likely gladly give up these over-used tests and treatments, but will not for fear of being sued.