Imagine your doctor diagnosed you with an early stage melanoma, a type of skin cancer, and they suggest you do a PET-CT scan to gather more information. Many of us would follow the doctor’s suggestion in order to get as much information as possible to treat this new condition.
On the flip side, medical specialists, from different national organizations, found that a PET-CT scan is unnecessary in diagnosing early stage skin cancer. These tests are designed to help show whether the cancer has spread, but, in the early stages, the PET-CT scan is not able to do that. This kind of unnecessary early testing procedure is considered low value.
Low value care is an unnecessary procedure that doesn’t offer any health benefit and sometimes may prove harmful. According to Value Based Insurance Design Health, the number one most common low value care procedure is diagnostic testing and imaging before low-risk surgery. The doctor may recommend these procedures out of habit, misinformation, or overcautiousness.
As a consumer there are a few tools available to us that can help distinguish between helpful and not helpful tests and procedures. There is a website called Choosing Wisely and their mission is to make clinical practice information available to everyone. On their website you can search in “Patient Resources” to find a wealth of information on many different conditions or tests. They provide details about procedures and tests that doctors might offer, explanations as to why and when a test would be useful, and the risk that accompanies each.
Another strategy is to build a trusting relationship with your primary care provider so when a health problem does come up, you can trust their recommendations or discuss other options. Most importantly it matters to be an informed consumer and make a habit of doing what makes sense for your health care.