Home » Health Conditions » American Health Care

Why Some of Your Medical Tests May Cause More Harm Than Good

Martha has had some lower back pain for about two weeks. The pain is debilitating at times and keeps her from her normal daily activities, so she goes to visit her doctor. She gets an X-ray, which turns up nothing, so her then orders an MRI, which also turns up nothing.


Martha’s back pain subsides on its own after another two weeks.

Did Martha really need those tests? While you may be inclined to say, “Better safe than sorry,” most doctors disagree.

In fact, a recent survey found that 72 percent of physicians believe that the typical medical doctor prescribes unneeded tests or procedures at least once a week. Of the 600 physicians surveyed as part of ABIM Foundation’s Choosing Wisely initiative, about three-fourths of them believe the number of unneeded tests and procedures is a serious problem.

This is for good reason. For one, unnecessary treatments and tests can be dangerous for the patient, especially if they are conducted every year or so. Some tests expose patients to radiation, which most scientists believe can increase one’s risk of cancer even in small doses. Unnecessary treatments and tests can also lead to additional pain, unnecessary surgeries and even death.

In addition to risks for the patient, all these unnecessary tests and treatments contribute to rising healthcare costs for everyone. The Institute of Medicine reported in 2012 that around $750 billion was wasted on unnecessary services and other issues in 2009. That equates to 30 percent of all health spending that year.

“Too many people think that more is better, that more treatment, more testing somehow results in better health care. That really is not true,” said Dr. Glen Stream, former president of the American Academy of Family Physicians.

It’s clear that doctors can help remedy this problem by not prescribing these treatments and tests.

But we, the public, can also help. Don’t push for a test, instead, ask if there are less invasive things to try first. In addition, find out what the risks are in relation to the benefits. You may find that the side effects and other risks far outweigh any possible benefits.


The information supplied in this article is not to be considered as medical advice and is for educational purposes only.