Hospitals Performing Unnecessary Tests

A new study finds that 30 percent of performed tests are unnecessary.

Blood test results image via shutterstock

Blood test results image via shutterstock

This year, Boston researchers have uncovered unnecessary antibiotic prescriptions, unnecessary mastectomies, and now unnecessary hospital testing. A new study conducted by researchers at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard Medical School reveals that around 30 percent of the most commonly performed hospital tests are unnecessary, and almost as many necessary tests are not being performed.

The study, published in this month’s online journal PLOS ONE, examined 1.6 million results from 46 of the 50 most commonly performed tests. Researchers discovered that 30 percent of all ordered tests are not needed and almost 30 percent of necessary tests go unordered.

According to the research team, it is assumed that most unnecessary tests in medicine are a result of repeating the same tests multiple times during a patient’s stay in the hospital. But from their research, the team discovered that, in reality, too many tests are being ordered in initial evaluations of patients, rather than repeat tests later on.

Dr. Ramy Arnaout, senior author of the study and associate professor of of pathology at Harvard Medical School said in a press release:

“In medicine, as a rule, we only do things if there is a reason. You’d never have a situation where you drop a loved one off at the doctor and when you pick them up at the end of a day, they’re missing a foot because the doctor went down a checklist and couldn’t see any reason not to remove the foot. That doesn’t happen because medicine adheres to ‘restrictive’ policies. However, as our findings showed, laboratory medicine is the exception to this rule. In ordering blood tests, we too often tend to be permissive, asking ‘why not?’ instead of ‘why?’”

While doctors initially order these tests, Arnaout’s research team also believes that the pathologists performing these tests have a responsibility to notice unnecessary orders and respond accordingly. Arnaout hopes that the results of this study will help challenge future procedures and avoid the perpetuation of this phenomenon.