How to avoid unnecessary tests and treatments

Published: April 2012

Think you need an EKG as part of your annual exam? Think again. How about an MRI or CT scan for your headache? Probably not. And antibiotics for that case of sinusitis that has been bugging you? Sorry, that’s strike three.

Many common tests and treatments are often overused, both because patients too often ask for them, and because doctors are all too willing to order them.

More than a third of the primary-care doctors in a Consumer Reports survey, for example, said that their patients very frequently or quite often asked for unnecessary or duplicative medical tests. And two-thirds of the doctors said they had agreed to at least one such request. Other research suggests that up to a third of all medical care delivered in the U.S. may be unnecessary.

All that needless care can be harmful to your health—and your wallet. Unnecessary CT scans and X-rays, for example, expose you to potentially cancer-causing radiation. And any money spent on tests you don't need is money down the drain.

To help combat the problem, nine medical societies that together represent nearly 375,000 physicians across the country have banded together to come up with a list of 45 tests and treatments that they say are often overused.

And as part of that effort, Consumer Reports and the medical societies are developing summaries for patients about when those tests and treatments are needed—and when they aren't. Download PDFs of the reports produced so far:

In the coming months, we will be working with the medical societies to produce additional reports, in English and Spanish, and collaborating with other consumer organizations to distribute them to diverse populations.

In the meantime, you can see summarizes of the Choosing Wisely lists on the website of the ABIM Foundation, the organization spearheading the effort.

These nine medical societies are participating in the effort:

Finally, to learn more about the project and get involved, go to ConsumerHealthChoices.org.

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