After being diagnosed with a severe health problem, such as cancer or autoimmune disease, the last thing a patient wants to worry about is whether all the tests, procedures, and treatments they are being told to undergo are necessary or not. Unfortunately, that is the exact happens to many patients.
Tina, a recent breast cancer patient, is a prime example of this situation. After being diagnosed with breast cancer, her oncologist and healthcare team recommended that she not only undergo chemotherapy along with six weeks of radiation but also have a lumpectomy performed. It may sound like a solid treatment plan, but there is one caveat – many of these tests and procedures are unnecessary and only adds to the woes and worries of the patient.
Overtreating Tina’s cancer with unnecessary medical tests and procedures caused problems that could have been easily avoided. Exposure to potential health risks, physical pain, side effects of medications along with increased medical burden were the by-products of these procedures – more hurtful than what Tina would have expected. And situations like Tina’s are not unusual. Wasteful use of medical care affects both healthcare providers and patients.
Wasteful Use of Medical Care is Not a New Problem Facing the Healthcare Industry
According to the National Academy of Medicine over $210 billion is spent every year on wasteful use of medical care – ordering and performing tests and procedures that are either irrelevant or unnecessary.
Wasteful use of medical care doesn’t just have a financial impact on the healthcare industry. Some other examples of how it impacts the healthcare industry include:
- Decreased physician productivity
- The increased cost of medical care
- Additional, and often unnecessary, work for front office staff and other healthcare professionals
The Burden of Unnecessary Medical Testing Places on Patients
Unnecessary medical testing affects a patient in a variety of ways. Patients have been known to experience the following when they undergo testing and procedures that are not required:
- Financial anxiety – patients face the financial burden of having to pay for these tests.
- Medical anxiety – an increased level of stress for patients because of the uncertainty of diagnosis.
- Time-consuming – Patients also have to await the results of these tests.
- Scheduling concerns – patients have to find ways to work these tests and procedures around their personal and professional commitments.
- Additional health problems – there are risks involved with some medical testing, such as those that require the administration of anesthesia. Patients, especially those who are already in poor health, could develop further complications from these procedures
Unnecessary Medical Testing Doesn’t Just Affect Patients
Ordering unnecessary tests and scans can directly impact the quality of care administered by healthcare providers. Doctors or specialists are prevented from providing the best care they can because of the delays caused by wasteful medical testing.
Many a time doctors or specialists cannot correctly diagnose a patient until all information, imaging, procedures, and scans, have been gathered. Other factors like appointment scheduling, waiting for insurance approvals, and the patient’s schedule, cause delays in getting necessary information for a proper diagnosis. By ordering unnecessary or duplicate medical tests and procedures, doctors and specialists forgo time and have to wait longer to make a final decision as they await results.
Creating an Effective Way to Communicate Helps Reduce Unnecessary Medical Testing
Wasteful use of medical care is a complex problem that won’t be solved overnight. However, healthcare professionals can take the first step towards eliminating unnecessary or excessive medical testing – by improving communication with the use of a safe, reliable electronic health information exchange.
An electronic health information exchange (HIE) gives healthcare providers the necessary platform they need to quickly and securely share information. Doctors, nurses, and other healthcare providers enter patient details into electronic software, known as an electronic health record EHR. This patient information can be electronically accessed on a secure server by other providers and healthcare professionals irrespective of their location. Anyone on the HIE platform can have access to patient’s EHR and obtain valuable information about prescribed medications, previous treatments or currently ordered tests and treatments.
Making this information easily accessible to healthcare providers can drastically reduce the amount of testing and procedures ordered. Instead of duplicating requirements for the test, a healthcare provider can check the record to see what tests have been ordered, when they were performed, and their results. This information can then be valuable for requesting additional testing or helping reach a diagnosis.
Other Ways to Reduce Unnecessary Tests and Procedures
Health information exchange is one of the most effective way healthcare providers can reduce or eliminate unnecessary medical testing. Other factors that can help in the effective management of illness include:
- Continuing education – By attending lectures, seminars or reading medical journals and research reports, healthcare providers can stay up to date on the ever-changing technology in the healthcare industry. They have to be abreast with the latest digital tools and devices that augment healthcare.
- Conduct informational sessions for office staff and other healthcare professionals – Through awareness healthcare professionals will be able to make a conscious effort to avoid ordering procedures that may be needless.
- Regularly update patient records – Verifying that all information on a patient’s electronic health record is accurate and up to date can help to order only those tests and procedures that are compulsory the patient treatment.
- Improving doctor-patient communication – Many healthcare providers often order tests or procedures when a patient insists on having one. Through a stronger patient-provider engagement like discussions on best practices, providing patient education material, physicians will be able to make decisions and provide the best course of treatment.
Incorporation of some of the above factors can drastically reduce the number of unnecessary medical tests and procedures and aid in better patient treatment management. This also allows healthcare providers to improve the quality of care they administer and help relieve some of the financial and emotional burdens these procedures carry with them.