Unnecessary medical tests costing Americans billions

Doctors might be ordering one CT scan too many; Americans are estimated to pay billions per year for unnecessary medical testing. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

The cost of health care and the struggle to improve the nation’s health care infrastructure has been central to a lot of turmoil over the past couple of years. Part of the problem is that people could be paying for unnecessary medical tests to the tune of billions per year.

Hospitals giving out testing on the cheap

Medical testing is a vital part of diagnostics. However, people could be paying for tests that aren’t needed or don’t work so doctors and hospitals can make a buck. A recent article in USA Today says some hospitals offer cheap computed tomography (CT) scans to current and former smokers. One offered the scan for $99 on its website, and another hospital put out a clip-out coupon for a $49 CT scan. The scan promotions started after a study showed fewer smokers that had received a CT scan died of lung cancer compared to an X-ray. The same study also pointed out that one-quarter of all CT lung scans resulted in false-positive results and that 300 people would have to be scanned to possibly save one life. That would be $27,900 in the first hospitals’ pockets, and $14,700 for the second.

Unnecessary testing could be widespread

According to Healthcare-economist.com, former Congressional Budget Office director Peter Orszag estimated Americans pay $700 billion annually for unnecessary tests. A 2006 study from Georgetown University, according to CBS, found a 43 percent chance of unnecessary tests being ordered by a doctor during a visit. The annual cost of unnecessary X-rays, electrocardiograms and urinalysis tests alone was estimated at $47 million to $194 million. According to Medifasthealth.org, a poll by healthcare consultants Jackson Healthcare found 73 percent of doctors practice “defensive medicine,” or ordering unnecessary tests or treatments “just to be safe.” One such procedure is arterial stenting, inserting tubes into blood vessels to ensure blood flow. Stents, according to Time, were found by studies to be less effective than low-cost, non-invasive treatments like regular exercise and diet control for coronary and arterial diseases. Stents cost Medicare $1.6 billion a year. According to Delmarvanow.com, website for the Daily Times of Salisbury, Md., the Peninsula Regional Medical Center has to pay $1.8 million to patients who had unnecessary stents inserted by Dr. John McLean. McLean also ordered unnecessary tests and falsified medical reports in claims to insurance companies.

Don’t be afraid to say no

Consumers should never be afraid to ask whether a procedure or test is necessary or to do some research and voice concerns with their doctor. The author of the Georgetown study says patients shouldn’t be afraid to ask why a test was ordered. People should ask about prescriptions they’ve been given, too. According to Time, treating adverse drug reactions costs $200 billion per year, and according to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, results in 770,000 injuries and deaths every year.


USA Today


Healthcare Economist




Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality

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