Medical testing out of control among U.S. patients

Disease prevention is "all the things your mother told you" about eating right, sleeping well, and not smoking--not completing a laundry list of medical tests, Dr. Rita Redberg, editor of Archives of Internal Medicine, told The Chicago Tribune in an article highlighting the recent cluster of studies indicating that many routine medical tests lead to more unnecessary expense and concern than benefit.

With traditional screening for prostate and colon cancers being called into question, even President Barack Obama's recent physical, which included both, has been criticized as excessive. Mammograms, angiograms, and repeat Caesarian sections have also recently been cast by some medical journals as major cost drivers with marginal medical need.

The popularity of these procedures has emerged from a mix of defensive medicine, physicians' and patients' love affair with technology, and a shared mentality that "more is better," according to the Tribune.

"To some extent we've taught [patients] to demand these things," said Dr. Gilbert Welch, a Dartmouth University internist and health outcomes researcher. "We've systematically exaggerated the benefits of early diagnosis."

Some, however, like Dr. Peter Pronovost of Johns Hopkins University, and Dr. Bruce Minsky of the University of Chicago, believe otherwise. Pronovost, a patient safety expert, pointed out that routine testing can often be based on outdated guidelines. Minsky, a cancer specialist, wants women in their 40s to continue to get routine mammograms.

"It enhances that communication between the physician and patient," Minsky said.

To learn more about recent research on test overuse:
- read this article in The Chicago Tribune