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Medical Testing Carries Risks

Medical testing equipment is a significant investment. Hospitals and clinics purchasing this equipment face substantial pressure to justify the expense by keeping the machines busy. This requires a steady stream of patients getting tested for various health conditions. Some clinics have responded to this pressure by advertising the tests directly to the public, without waiting for a physician to recommend the tests based on actual symptoms. The problem with this is that testing is not a no-risk proposition. Besides the worthless expense for many people, there are health risks to undergoing many medical tests. That risk is only acceptable when there are actual medical signs that the underlying problem may exist.

The problem of unnecessary testing, even when a doctor is consulted, is a long-standing one. Many of the tests ordered in hospitals today cannot be justified by medical research. Medical testing is big business and doctors have little incentive to keep medical costs low. Direct advertising from medical testing centers will likely make the problem worse. 

One of the primary problems with tests that are not medically indicated is that they can easily lead to further, more invasive testing. An abnormal test result will almost invariably lead to more tests, even if the original test was for a condition you certainly do not have. Even simple blood tests can lead you down a path where your health is compromised for no reason.

The American Medical Association recommends that adults between the ages of 18 and 40 get a health examination every five years. After the age of 40, they recommend testing every 1-3 years. Preventative medicine and screening tests have a place in the field of medicine. Direct-to-consumer advertising of medical tests is a more questionable practice.

Source: Star Tribune, “Don’t be lured into unnecessary medical tests,” by Hanna E. Bloomfield, 17 June 2015 

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