Physicians Admit to Ordering Too Many Tests, Procedures

May 5, 2014
Laura Joszt

Physicians recognize ordering unnecessary medical tests and procedures is a serious problem, but they still do it anyway, sometimes just because patients ask for them.

Physicians recognize ordering unnecessary medical tests and procedures is a serious problem, but they still do it anyway, according to the results of research from the ABIM Foundation.

The survey of 600 physicians, funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), found that 73% of physicians say the frequency of unnecessary tests and procedures is a very or somewhat serious problem. Nearly the same amount (72%), said that the average medical doctor prescribes an unnecessary procedure or test at least once a week.

“Old habits are hard to break, but this research suggests that America’s physicians are slowly making progress in efforts to reduce unnecessary care,” Richard J. Baron, MD, president and chief executive office of the ABIM Foundation, said in a statement. “Avoiding unnecessary medical care is important because care that is not needed can be harmful to patients, and unnecessary care raises health care costs for everyone.”

Although two-thirds feel they have responsibility to make sure patients avoid unnecessary tests and procedures, 53% have ordered unnecessary tests if a patient insisted.

When patients do request an unnecessary test or procedure, a large majority (87%) says they always or almost always talk to patients about why they should avoid it. While 27% of physicians say their patients follow their advice half the time or less, 70% said their patients always or often follow their advice.

The most common reason why physicians order an unnecessary test or procedure is because of concerns about malpractice issues (52%), while 36% say they do so just to be safe, and 30% say it’s because they want more information or reassurance.

Physicians take the weight of fixing the issue: 58% said they are in the best position to address the problem, while only 15% said the same of the government.

“It is a promising sign that an increasing number of physicians are accepting responsibility for reducing unnecessary medical care delivered in the United States,” John R. Lumpkin, MD, RWJF senior vice president, said in a statement. “Conversations between doctors and patients about what care really is and isn’t necessary have always been hard. Only by shedding light on these issues, and being transparent about which tests and procedures might not be needed, will we help create a sustainable culture of health in America.”