3 Tips to Avoid an Unnecessary Screening Test

by Dr. Julian Whitaker
Filed Under: Useless Medicine
Last Reviewed 03/28/2014

Routine use of diagnostic and screening tests is ingrained in modern American medicine. Accepted guidelines include recommendations for yearly blood workups and regular blood pressure checks. Mammograms, PSA tests and other screening tests are championed as the way to catch cancer in its early stages and save lives; and cardiologists order angiograms at the earliest signs of heart disease. 

3 Tips to Avoid an Unnecessary Screening Test We are bombarded with recommendations to get this screening test annually and that one biannually. But while a handful of conventional screening tests are valuable and do save lives, others are widely overused and unreliable, and some are downright harmful.

How to Avoid Unnecessary Medical Tests

1. Doctors order unnecessary screening tests, first, because they buy into the hype, and second, because they worry about missing something and being sued, a reasonable concern in our litigious society. 

If your doctor urges you to have a screening test, ask questions such as:

  • Why should I have this screening test?
  • What are my options?
  • How will it affect treatment?

Consent only if the screening test is medically necessary. And, remember, when in doubt, get a second opinion.

2. Avoid free or low-cost health screening tests sponsored by hospitals or medical centers. They are simply marketing ploys to get new patients.

3. Beware of pharmaceutical company-sponsored “disease awareness” campaigns that urge you to talk to your doctor about “underdiagnosed” conditions. Forget about improving public health—they’re just looking for new customers.

Now it’s your turn: Have you told your doctor “no” when it comes to unnecessary medical tests?

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