Public Citizen condemns hospital sponsorship of low-cost testing services

The consumer advocacy group Public Citizen urges hospitals and healthcare systems around the country to stop hosting special events that promote unnecessary testing, USA Today reported.

Public Citizen asked some 20 inpatient providers to stop using the services of Florida-based HealthFair, which offers tests through medical vans, according to USA Today. The group claims the tests, which are often offered at low prices, lures patients into undergoing much pricier exams down the line. One of its packages of six tests, priced at $179, includes echocardiograms and carotid artery ultrasounds.

However, the results of those tests could lead some consumers to undergo hospital-based tests that can run into the thousands of dollars, according to Public Citizen.

"That $179 may seem like a bargain, but zero dollars would be the real bargain," Michael Carome, director of Public Citizen's health research group, told USA Today. "You don't need to spend any money on these tests unless you fit into a very narrow population, and no one needs to be screened with six at once."

Among the hospitals using HealthFair's services are hospitals operated by Dignity Health and Sharp Healthcare in California.

HealthFair claims the test identifies about 1,000 patients a year with a "critical" health risk, the Los Angeles Times reported.

A 2012 Archives of Internal Medicine study concluded that excessive testing can often lead to other tests, although researchers did not establish an exact causation behind the extra testing.

But such tests can not only expose patients to unnecessary radiation, but cause serious unintended consequences, Steven Nissen, M.D., the Cleveland Clinic's chairman of cardiology, told USA Today. In one case, such a test prompted a patient to undergo an angioplasty, which led to a ruptured artery, which led to a heart attack, a bypass surgery and eventually a heart transplant.

To learn more:
- read the USA Today article
- here's the Los Angeles Times article