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How Medical Tests Can Lead to Poorer Healthcare

By: Cohen, Placitella & Roth @ Nov 21, 2018

In today’s digital world, and since the dawn of the computer and the proliferation of the internet, we tend to rely heavily on technology. Indeed, when a piece of technology malfunctions, we are often impatient, if not downright shocked. And one would never expect a computer to be wrong — a miscalculation or misinterpretation of data by a machine might seem impossible.

But technology isn’t infallible, especially when paired with humans and the many “human errors” that are made. In fact, some evidence suggests that medical tests can sometimes lead to poorer health outcomes. Here’s why.

Doctors Rely Too Heavily on Tests

The first part of the problem is that doctors in today’s world rely too heavily on tests. According to an article published in The Washington Post, there are more than four billion tests ordered by doctors in this country every year. While this might seem like a good thing–tests are, after all, designed to help doctors understand what’s wrong with their patients–it’s not always the case. More tests mean more room for errors, and tests, or the way that their results are read, are often incorrect. What’s more, test results can often lead to invasive procedures for innocuous complications that end up causing more harm than good. 

Medical Professionals Often Misunderstand Test Results

The fact that doctors conduct billions of tests on patients every year might be a good thing but for the fact that test results are often misunderstood or misinterpreted. This is based in a misunderstanding of false positives, a misunderstanding of probability, and a misunderstanding of tests and technology as being error-free.

  • First, false positives – According to the same article cited above, it is common for many tests to have a five percent rate of false positives. When a false positive test result is shared with a patient, the result can be stress, expensive health costs, and of course, unnecessary treatments.
  • Second, a misunderstanding of probability – As wisely explained by the article’s author, about 50 percent of doctors are wrong in guessing the chances that a patient has a disease after accounting for the test’s false positive rate and the prevalence of the disease. For example, if a disease has a prevalence of one in 1,000,000 and a false positive rate of three percent, more than half of doctors would incorrectly calculate the patient’s chances of actually having the condition (which is quite low). This, once again, leads to misdiagnosis and unnecessary treatment.
  • Finally, the assumption that technology and tests are always right and always necessary – about a third of tests that are administered aren’t necessary. However, doctors make decisions based on these test results, which means that treatment is inherently flawed.

The Costs to Patients Are Too Great

Yes, test results are valuable, but they aren’t everything. And when doctors rely too heavily on test results to make a decision about patient care and treatment, the patient often suffers unnecessarily.

If you are a patient who has been misdiagnosed, undergone unnecessary treatment, or otherwise been a victim of medical malpractice, and if you are asking “are medical tests helpful?” consider meeting with the Philadelphia medical malpractice lawyers at the law office of Cohen, Placitella & Roth, P.C. A consultation with our law firm is free of charge – please call us today to learn more.

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