when being a savvy health care consumer means getting no health care

April 9, 2012

in health care

just last week nine medical societies released a list of occasions when a patient should not get health care. the list includes recommendations to no longer conduct early imaging tests for back pain, heart imaging stress tests for patients without coronary symptoms or chemotherapy to late-stage cancer patients who didn’t respond to earlier chemo treatments.

some of these recommendations might surprise or frustrate patients, such as the recommendation not to prescribe antibiotics for uncomplicated sinus infections. some, as with the chemo-related recommendation, may anger them. however, all of these recommendations come after a lengthy review of available medical information. they’re intended to reduce waste and risk of patient exposure in the case of certain tests.

we’ve been taught to seek second opinions, to ask for tests, to get the latest and greatest. it’ll take time to unwind these mind tapes and replace them with tapes that tell us that being an educated, engaged patient sometimes means saying no to tests—or accepting a “no” from a doctor.

there’s a role here for employers. rather than telling employees what’s covered and what’s not and considering the job done, employers must educate employees about the connection between unnecessary health care, increased costs and potential risk:

“Patients with comprehensive health insurance may not care much if needless tests are performed. But if health care costs continue to soar, patients will be shouldering more of the financial burden. And there can be serious health consequences from unnecessary treatment, including excess radiation, adverse drug effects, exposure to germs in medical institutions and even exploratory surgery or biopsies when scans produce a false positive.”

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