Many emergency room physicians order expensive diagnostic tests on patients who may not need them out of fear they may end up being sued for medical malpractice, a recently published study contends. This study, which was led and authored by Dr. Hemal Kanzaria (an ER doctor at UCLA), focused on surveying more than 430 ER doctors – 97 percent of whom stated that they have ordered advanced imaging tests on patients who may not have needed them.

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Here’s what else this study found:

  • Unnecessary imaging scans, as well as the treatments recommended as a result of these tests, cost about $210 billion annually.
  • When imaging tests are unnecessary for patients, they can expose patients to some significant risks, including the risk of getting “false positive” results, exposing patients to treatments that may do more harm than good, etc.

Commenting on these findings, Kanzaria stated, “[Doctors] don’t like uncertainty, and so we’re driven by this culture that says if there’s any doubt, we should do the test, and we don’t acknowledge the potential harms of this approach.”

In the conclusion to this study, Kanzaria recommended improving patient education and including patients in the decision-making process (so that patients can decide whether they need advanced imaging tests).

Failure to Diagnosis, Misdiagnoses Not Discussed in Study

While this study may have underscored that there could be some extra costs and risks associated with performing advanced, unnecessary imaging tests, interestingly, it did not include a discussion of the fact that failure to diagnose and misdiagnoses are often a problem among ER doctors. In fact, some research has found that ER diagnostic errors impact between 20 and 40 percent of patients treated in these facilities.

Additionally, this study seems to have fallen short in:

  • Suggesting just how and when ER doctors are supposed to deem that testing is unnecessary
  • Discussing (or recommending) just how patient education and inclusion in the decision-making process would even work, especially considering the fact that people who need emergency medical treatment may not be conscious, etc.

What do you think about this study’s findings? Share your thoughts with us on Facebook and Google+.

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