A new investigation from Consumer Reports Health finds that many adults are getting unnecessary tests for heart disease.
The report, published in the September issue of the consumer review magazine, found that about 44 percent of healthy people between ages 40 and 60 surveyed had a heart-specific screening test such as a exercise stress test or a electrocardiogram even though they had no risk factors for or symptoms of heart disease.
In 2004, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force said it did not recommend using treadmill exercise testing, electrocardiograms, or electron-beam computerized tomography to screen for heart disease in low-risk adults who don't have symptoms.
“Almost half of people are getting ineffective screening tests. We think a couple of things are happening – doctors are getting incentives to do more, [and] they make more money when they do more,” Consumer Reports Health Rating Center's director, Dr. John Santa, said in a telephone interview. “And many patients come to expect the tests – they want the test. But they don’t see how it could be bad for them.”
The report found that doctors often give patients expensive inappropriate tests that can lead to unnecessary treatments such as angioplasty, an invasive procedure to clear blocked arteries. The push to overtest and overtreat is due in part to health care advertising, which brings treatment options for perceived heart conditions directly to the patient.
“There are a lot of promotions – some by hospitals, some by doctors, and some by companies that do screening tests. Essentially they’re saying, to maximize your health, make sure you don’t have heart disease,” Santa said. “This expectation has been created that all prevention tests are good.”
Unnecessary prevention tests can be bad for long-term health and a consumer’s wallet, Santa said. For example, he said, so-called false positives can lead to even more procedures, with the added worry and costs.
The cost of the exams adds up – about $50 for an EKG, $250 for a stress test, $5,000 for an angiogram, and $20,000 for an angioplasty of a single vessel, according to estimates for the District of Columbia from the Healthcare Blue Book.
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