Eliminate Test Worship

Think it’s always best to get tested? That normal CAT scan may seem reassuring when you have a migraine but it can be equivalent to 100 regular xrays! That can quickly add up to serious cancer risk.

Tests are often useless and do more to protect the medical professional than to help the patient. Some common culprits:

♦ Skull xrays for minor head injuries

♦ Low back xrays for a “wrenched” back or back strain

Tests can give false reassurance or can be misinterpreted. They often lead to even more testing. A slightly abnormal shadow on a CAT scan can be a normal body variation but since it was found, now biopsies and other risky tests may now be recommended “to be sure.”

Avoid high-tech idolatry. Bow only to common sense. A few common sense test or medical procedure tips:

1. Ask if that test or procedure will help change the treatment plan. Why xray a stubbed toe if tape wrap is the treatment either way?

2. Determine how experienced that person is who will operate on you or perform some other invasive procedure. For instance, biopsies, mammograms and ultrasounds are best done and interpreted by the most experienced professionals using state of the art equipment since these tests pose a higher risk for inaccurate results. You will want the person who does that procedure all day, everyday. Practice makes perfect…almost.

3. Ask the healthcare provider how likely you are to have that dreaded disease. Is there real concern or is it just in case? Perhaps the test or treatment can wait a few days to see if you improve? If, on the other hand, you are terribly ill then it is surely worthwhile to get that test or procedure.

4. What are the worst complications or side effects? What are the most common?

5. Do you have any specific risk factors that make that dreaded disease more likely to be present in your specific case? Vague chest pains, for example, are more worrisome in older adults with diabetes and who smoke. The healthy college student suffering from vague chest pains during finals week is far less likely to be seriously sick.

6. If it seems you should get some testing done, ask if there are safer alternatives that can be done first such as an ultrasound test for possible kidney stones before undergoing a CAT scan (xray exposure).

The best way to eliminate test or treatment worship is to accept the truth. Despite all the high tech tests medicine has to offer, there remains a great deal of uncertainty in diagnosing diseases. Tests are quite imperfect so it often is not black and white when doctors try to diagnose your ailment.