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Is Your Doctor Ordering Unnecessary Tests? Posted: May 25th, 2010

By Kathryn Vercillo

Kathryn Vercillo is a full time freelance writer/blogger with nearly 10 years of writing experience. She has authored two books and contributed to many other print publications.

Doctors are ordering tests that you don't need, but they aren't doing this to make sure that you get the best care possible. Physicians may be ordering extra tests because they are afraid of getting sued and they're experiencing peer pressure in the industry, according to a recent study published in Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes, a journal of the American Heart Association. These unnecessary medical tests are driving up the costs of health care--costing you, health insurance companies and the nation a lot of money.

The study survey nearly 600 cardiologists. The heart specialists were asked questions about their decisions to order cardiac catheterization, a procedure that allows doctors to examine blood flow to the heart and determine how well the heart is pumping. In addition to this survey of their work, the cardiologists were asked about their recommendations for a series of hypothetical patients. Their responses were scored with attention to whether or not invasive or high-tech tests were ordered for these patients.

The Results

The study found that approximately one in four doctors order unnecessary tests because they feel that their colleagues would order those tests. Furthermore, the study reveals that approximately one in four doctors is ordering unnecessary tests due to fears of malpractice lawsuits. Physicians don't want to be held responsible for problems that might come up in court if they fail to order the right tests, so numerous tests are ordered to cover their bases.

Many Doctors Worry About Malpractice

Malpractice fear was the bigger of the two issues. The study showed this driving force to be correlated with differences in the level of health care services between different regions of the nation. Health care costs vary widely from region to region and unnecessary tests may be one explanation for price disparities. Addressing this problem could help to make health care more affordable across the nation.

The researchers who conducted the study suggest that health care spending could be reduced if legislators work on a way to address frivolous medical malpractice lawsuits. Although the health care reform debate did include discussion about this issue, very few changes related to medical malpractice made it into the new legislation. The only significant change is that pilot programs are approved for exploring lawsuit alternatives.

As long as health care costs continue to spiral upwards, so will health insurance rates.