Doctors still order unnecessary medical tests that rack up millions, study found

Doctor looking at X-ray
Yet another study finds doctors continue to order unnecessary tests and procedures. (Getty/bernardbodo)

Physicians still order unnecessary medical tests for patients and it comes at a high cost, according to a recent report.

The study (PDF) 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. That cost the healthcare system an estimated $282 million, researchers found.

The alliance looked at claims submitted to private insurance companies between July 2015 and June 2016 from 1.3 million patients in Washington state. Researchers analyzed claims for 47 procedures and tests typically considered unnecessary or overused by medical professionals, from screening for cervical cancer more often than every three years to prescribing antibiotics for upper respiratory and ear infections.

Innovation Awards

Submit your nominations for the FierceHealthcare Innovation Awards

The FierceHealthcare Innovation Awards showcases outstanding innovation that is driving improvements and transforming the industry. Our expert panel of judges will determine which companies demonstrate innovative solutions that have the greatest potential to save money, engage patients, or revolutionize the industry. Deadline for submissions is this Friday, October 18th.

Cassie Sauer, CEO of the Washington State Hospital Association, told the Spokesman-Review, she wasn’t surprised by the report’s findings. Hospitals and doctors need to do more to cut down on unnecessary and wasteful tests and procedures, she said.

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

“We don’t have enough staff. There’s a physician shortage, there’s a nurse shortage, there’s a tech shortage. We need to use our staff efficiently and not having our staff doing services that aren’t really beneficial,” she said.

Add the Washington state report to the growing body of evidence of unnecessary care, an issue that costs the healthcare system upward of $200 billion per year.

Both doctors and patients can counteract medical overuse by talking about the risks and side effects of a test or procedure and looking at simpler, safer options, as Fierce Healthcare previously reported. A survey of physicians found they blame overtreatment on profit motives, fear of malpractice suits and acceding to patient demands.  

Suggested Articles

As the public debate on health reform rolls on, a new report analyzes how these different approaches could impact insurers' bottom lines.

A House panel is going to consider several changes to Nancy Pelosi's drug prices plan, including stiff penalties for not being transparent.

Molina aims to bolster its Medicaid business by acquiring certain assets from New York-based YourCare for $40 million.