Ask your doctor: how will this treatment benefit me?

Ask your doctor: how will this treatment benefit me?

In an effort to curb wasteful medical tests, nine medical societies representing nearly 375,000 docs are challenging the widely held perception that more healthcare is better care. It has released a list of 45 tests and treatments their members should no longer automatically order.

It’s ok to ask your doctor how will this test or treatment benefit me. In fact, it behooves you to ask!

Hundreds of billions of dollars are spent on unnecessary treatments that are expensive and can be life-threatening, largely because none of us will spend the time getting the information we need to ask our doctors whether these treatments are even necessary. For example, about one quarter of implantable defibrillators are unnecessary as determined by the American College of Cardiology. If you doctor told you your heart had to be stopped to determine if the device was working, wouldn’t you want to know whether you really needed the device?

Last year, Obama released his deficit reduction plan that called for $248 billion in cuts over 10 years to Medicare, in part coming from cuts to providers of expensive, unnecessary tests.

The growth of medical imaging procedures like CAT scans and MRIs has come under scrutiny and is one target of future cuts.

“There has been a significant increase in the utilization of imaging services for cancer patients since 1999, especially advanced imaging services such as CAT scans, MRI and PET scans — the most expensive studies,” said Dr. Kevin A. Schulman, a professor of medicine and business administration and associate director of the Duke Clinical Research Institute.

Schulman noted that more scans do not necessarily result in better treatment or outcomes. Patients, he added, can play a role in limiting the number of unnecessary scans.

“It’s OK to ask your physicians why they are ordering an imaging test and how you might benefit from the result,” he said.

While overall costs for treating cancer patients have increased 2 to 5 percent a year, imaging costs have increased 5 to 10 percent.

Michael T. French, a professor of economics, epidemiology and public health at the University of Miami, isn’t surprised that these costs have gone up so dramatically.

“Imaging has advanced considerably in recent years,” he said. “So, it’s logical that it would be used more often, and along with the higher costs of increased use are the costs of improved technology.”

French thinks that some of the increased use of imaging is related to increased reimbursement and competitiveness among hospitals. “Is there excessive use of imaging to improve profits? Yes,” French said.

The recommendations will be circulated to consumers and doctors by a coalition calling itself, Choosing Wisely, which includes employer gouts, unions, AARP and Consumer Reports. Neither the insurance industry nor the federal government is involved in the process.


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