Medical consortium offers invaluable advice to avoid unnecessary tests

Robin Wulffson MD's picture
unnecessary medical tests, cost, harm, ABIM Foundation, Choosing Wisely
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When a medical test is recommended by a physician, friend, or even a TV ad, have you ever questioned whether the test is necessary? Not uncommonly, an individual has some doubts regarding the necessity of the test and has concerns about cost and potential harm. The fact of the matter is that unnecessary tests not only drive up healthcare costs but also can cause harm. To address this issue of major healthcare concern, United States specialty societies representing more than 500,000 physicians developed an initiative known as Choosing Wisely, which offers a comprehensive list of recommendations to improve care and eliminate unnecessary tests and procedures. The advice is offered not only to medical consumers but also to healthcare professionals.

The consortium is composed of 17 different prestigious medical groups including the American Academy of Family Physicians, the American Academy of Ophthalmology, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology. The first set of guidelines was issued last April and was last updated February 21, 2013. Another major update is planned for release later this year. Topics include: Allergy tests: When you need them and when you don’t; Bone density tests: When you need them and when you don’t; Colonoscopy: When you need it and when you don’t; Pap tests: When you need them and when you don’t; Treating heartburn and GERD; and Treating sinusitis: Don’t rush to antibiotics.

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The recommendations were developed under the auspices of the nonprofit ABIM Foundation, which is a component of the American Board of Internal Medicine. They are based on the individual medical groups’ assessment of existing scientific evidence. Christine Cassel, an internist and chief executive of the ABIM Foundation, explained that the foundation’s goal is to disseminate scientific information to both the patient and the physician so that they can interact in appropriate medical decisions.

The Choosing Wisely Web site provides a complete listing of the medical groups involved in the consortium as well as a list of patient-friendly resources from the organizations. The resources were developed in collaboration with Consumers Reports; they allow consumers and physicians to engage in these important conversations about the overuse of medical tests and procedures that provide little benefit and in some cases harm. Each medical organization was asked to compile a list of “Five Things Physicians and Patients Should Question.” The ABIM Foundation notes that these lists represent specific, evidence-based recommendations physicians and patients should discuss to help make wise decisions about the most appropriate care based on their individual situation. Each list provides information on when tests and procedures may be appropriate, as well as the methodology used in its creation.

Reference: ABIM Foundation

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