Eight Questions You Should Always Ask Your Doctor
By Mary Johnson
Nine prominent physician groups recently released lists of 45 common tests and treatments they say are often unnecessary. The problem is costing you dearly — as much as one third of every healthcare dollar, researchers say. As someone supposed to be giving you tips on how to save money, I’m embarrassed to admit that earlier this year I was a victim of overzealous medical testing. I’m not on Medicare yet, but what happened to me is happening to millions of those of you who are.
Even though I have good insurance, I wound up with $1,260 in unexpected out-of-pocket costs after being referred to a specialist who ordered “a few tests.” I later learned that most, if not all of the tests I was given were probably unnecessary, and not recommended by the physician groups, based on my medical history. The visit with my specialist lasted only 15 minutes. At check out I learned the doctor had ordered four high-tech tests including a CT scan. No explanation was given about what the doctor was looking for, why the tests were necessary, or how they would help, nor was I given the opportunity to go back and ask the doctor before leaving. Nothing abnormal was found in any one of them. While I’m grateful for that, the stack of bills I received later forced me to tap savings that I was hoping to count on for retirement.
Healthcare researchers are questioning the surge in medical testing, particularly the aggressive use of advanced radiology tests like CTs, MRIs and ultrasounds. Their use has become routine, but doctors are not necessarily diagnosing more diseases and the tests can expose patients to high levels of radiation that can cause cancer. Some critics blame “defensive medicine” to avoid malpractice suits, but that’s only part of the problem. Some critics say that the tests are becoming a crutch as doctors have less and less time to spend with patients. And all say that the profit motives give doctors incentives to over prescribe the tests.
Marvin Moser, MD author of “The Patient As A Consumer” Yale University School of Medicine Heart Book, provides these eight questions to ask:
1. What is the purpose of this test? —Is the test being ordered for a possible (asymptomatic) disorder when you have no symptoms or clear sign of disease? Or, is it needed to confirm a suspected diagnosis?
2. Will it provide the diagnosis or will more tests be needed?
3. How accurate is it?
4. How frequently is this test recommended for a person of my age and medical history?
5. What are the potential complications and risks?
6. How will the information be used in my treatment?
7. What is it going to cost? Is there a less expensive alternative?
8. What is likely to happen if the test is not done?
While no one should try to be one’s own physician, it is vital to establish good communication with your doctor. If you feel awkward asking these questions, consider bringing someone with you to appointments who can ask on your behalf. Sources: “The Patient As A Consumer,” Marvin Moser, M.D., Yale University School of Medicine Heart Book. “Physicians Wade Into Efforts To Curb Unnecessary Treatments,” Julie Appleby, Kaiser Health News, April 4, 2012.