How companies make money from unnecessary screening tests

Most patients think that more testing equates to better medicine, and companies are profiting from that myth.

Some offer non-invasive screening tests (via Schwitzer), often times performed in church basements, screening the healthy, general population for carotid artery disease, peripheral vascular disease, or abdominal aortic aneurysms.

The typical cost is $50 per test, or five tests for $159. The price transparency is welcome, especially when health care costs are normally hard to come by.

The problem is, none of the tests are recommended by the USPSTF, and can be potentially harmful as they lead patients to undergo more invasive studies for findings that may eventually be benign. Generally, patients do not have a good sense of what is backed by evidence or not, and hence, fall back to the fallacy that “more must be better.”

Consider the described case of a blocked carotid artery that was found during incidental screening. The patient presented the results to her doctor, who repeated the test, confirming the findings. The patient then underwent surgery to clear out the arteries.

However, the physician addresses the conundrum that arises in this asymptomatic patient: “She never had any symptoms. Now you could argue that she might have had a stroke without a test, but what if she wouldn’t have? She just went through a risky double procedure for unclear gain.”

Patients like certainty, and often fail to appreciate the risk and nuance involving screening tests. And until they do, there will always be a market for companies to profit from that gray area.

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