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Bad Medicine: Doctor Appointments You Should Skip

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You work out, eat right and see your doctor regularly. But did you know that too many checkups and medical tests can actually harm your health?

Are Doctors Overdoing It?

Jackie Lahey is a model patient. She never misses her yearly physical, gyno appointment or mammogram. "I do everything right," says Jackie, of Maplewood, New Jersey. But a few years ago, her proactive approach to her health resulted in a scare that still haunts her. At age 42, she had just gotten a mammogram and was waiting for the results, when the radiologist walked into the exam room with a grim look on her face. "She said they had found a suspicious area on my chest wall," Jackie remembers. "I asked if it was cancer, but she hedged and said they needed to do further tests."

Jackie learned that she had a tumor, which had been designated BI-RAD 5, or "highly suggestive of malignancy." (The BI-RAD system designates breast cancer risk based on mammogram findings; 1 is cancer-free and 6 is cancer). "I was a wreck," she says. "All I could think about was what my kids would do if I died."

Finally, a week and a needle biopsy later, Jackie got word that the growth was actually benign. But the saga still wasn't over: The breast cancer surgeon recommended that she have the lump removed anyway; he wanted the entire thing biopsied "just in case." Jackie scheduled the surgery, which confirmed that she did not have cancer. "I was so relieved!" she says. "But now, every time I get a mammogram, I wonder if I'll have to go through all that again."

A growing number of physician groups, public health experts and medical task forces say that stories like Jackie's illustrate a major problem with today's health care system: Americans are overscreened, which can lead to false diagnoses and needless surgical procedures. Of the nation's $2.7 trillion annual health care bill, as much as $325 billion went to unnecessary medical care, a 2009 study found. Currently, 39 physician specialty groups are calling on their member doctors to stop reflexively ordering some 200 tests or procedures, including ovarian cancer screenings and MRIs for back pain, that are routinely performed but have been found to be largely pointless. And the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF), an independent panel of experts that releases medical recommendations, has advised against routine mammograms for women in their forties because the risk of false-positive results is so high.

"In the last 50 years, we have developed a very prevention-oriented culture," says Carolyn Westhoff, MD, a FITNESS advisory board member and professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Columbia University Medical Center. "But we're learning that we can do many of the screening tests less often and that some of them are useful only when a person has certain symptoms."

Yet most doctors still aren't heeding that message. Many are reluctant to give up tests, for reasons ranging from the well-intentioned (they truly want to search out and treat any condition that could harm you) to the self-serving (they want to cover their butts and avoid medical malpractice suits). According to one study, 93 percent of physicians in specialties with a high risk of litigation, such as ob-gyn and orthopedic surgery, said they practice "defensive medicine," meaning they order tests and perform diagnostic procedures out of fear of being sued. And some doctors may be influenced by the fact that the more they do, the more they get paid by insurance companies. To be fair, Dr. Westhoff says, many docs are simply creatures of habit, practicing what they were trained to do.

The medical system has trained patients to follow certain rules, too. Two-thirds of adults, for instance, believe that an annual physical is a must. Turns out, it's not. "Our culture believes that early detection is always good and that more is better," Dr. Westhoff says. "But it is often worth pulling back and doing a little less."

So how can you avoid subjecting yourself to unnecessary medical exams and tests but still protect your health? Here's what every woman needs to know.

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bahh24 wrote:

That article is reflecting our healthcare screening is protecting us Obama is making screening a healthcare disaster very bad decision you make on individual health care .

8/23/2014 05:13:52 PM Report Abuse
dr.sharp wrote:

I am very disappointed in this story. All I can say is as a healthcare professional "covering your butt" is not something to be ashamed of. It's how you ensure the longevity of your career, care for your patients and put food on the table for your family. Someone who maintains such a laissez faire view of preventative medicine obviously holds no high-stakes roles in the medical community. Stick to writing articles.

3/31/2014 08:11:36 AM Report Abuse
paris10gal wrote:

To any woman who stops having mammograms because they are painful...what's really painful is surgery, radiation and chemotherapy! Ladies, please keep having those mammograms because they are true life savers. Tenderness for a day or two is nothing compared to having cancer treatments. Thank God for mammograms!

3/30/2014 10:09:17 PM Report Abuse
mjsel74 wrote:

What if it were your Mother, Sister, Wife, or Girl Friend that died because they couldn┐t have this type of cancer testing? There needs to be more responsible educating to help woman when they have to go through situations like this. Your website could go a long way in helping to reach out and educate woman and men about cancer and provide resources to help them when they have a cancer scare or are going through cancer treatment rather than giving them an excuse to not take care of their health.

3/30/2014 11:20:03 AM Report Abuse
junkbuster87555 wrote:

Good point. Not much written about docs overdoing it with testing. How much time do we all really need to spend in doctors' offices?What are some of these things basedon besides making some extra money for the practice? I have heard some interesting rebuttal from doctors that have really made no difference years later. Then when I actually wanted to fill a prescription for the one thing that would make me feel better, our United Health Care HMO would not allow the prescription to be filled!

3/30/2014 06:15:01 AM Report Abuse

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