1 in 4 older patients say physicians order unneeded tests and drugs

Doctor looking at X-ray
Some 54% of those polled said they believe that health providers often recommend tests, medications or procedures that patients don’t really need, (Getty/bernardbodo)

Older patients often disagree with their physicians as to whether they really need a medical test or medicine, according to the findings of a new poll of Americans over age 50.

Only 14% of people over age 50 say that more is usually better when it comes to medical treatment, according to the findings from the National Poll on Healthy Aging.

One in 4 said their health providers often order tests or prescribe medications they don’t really need. One in 6 reported that happened within the last year, but about half of patients had the test or filled the prescription despite their reservations.

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On the flip side, about 1 in 10 of those polled said their doctor or provider had told them a test or medication they requested wasn’t needed. Most said the doctor explained why, but 40% said they didn’t completely understand the reasoning behind the decision.

The poll points to the need for improved communication about the mismatch in opinions, which might reduce the use of unneeded scans, screenings, medications and procedures and ultimately reduce healthcare costs. “The new findings suggest patients and providers need to work together more to prevent overuse of healthcare services that provide the least value to patients,” said Jeffrey Kullgren, M.D., assistant professor in internal medicine at the University of Michigan, who designed the poll and analyzed its results.

RELATED: Doctors continue to provide unnecessary tests and procedures, study finds

The poll included a national sample of 2,007 Americans between the ages of 50 and 80 and was conducted by the University of Michigan Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation. It was sponsored by AARP and Michigan Medicine, the university’s academic medical center. Results were included in a report (PDF).

“Patients should speak up when they aren’t sure if a test or medication recommended to them is needed,” said Kullgren. “And providers need to communicate about how a particular service will—or will not—affect the patient’s health, both when they’re recommending it and when a patient has requested it.”

Some 54% of those polled said they believe that health providers often recommend tests, medications or procedures that patients don’t really need and studies show they are right. A recent study from the nonprofit Washington Health Alliance looked at claims filed in the state of Washington and found more than 622,000 patients underwent a medical procedure or test that was deemed unnecessary during a one-year period, which cost the healthcare system an estimated $282 million.

The poll suggests doctors and other clinicians may have more leeway than they think to hold back on ordering services that are of little or no value. A survey of physicians found they blame overtreatment on profit motives, fear of malpractice suits and acceding to patient demands.  

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