Doctors warn which medical tests you should get and which you should avoid

CLEVELAND - A 5 On Your Side health investigation is revealing new information on tests and screenings commonly prescribed by your doctors. Are the tests as effective as they should be?

A lot of doctors now say that sometimes less is more when it comes to certain testing.

Consumer Reports has done an extensive study on the questions you should ask your doctors, and the screenings to get and to avoid.

We asked the tough questions to doctors with a group called Better Health Greater Cleveland and let you know that legal experts said, in general, be careful.

"My mom started getting repeated sinus infections," said Christine Martini from northeast Ohio. Six to eight months of antibiotics didn't cure her 72-year-old mom. In fact, Martini told us the drugs wound up harming her.

"After she received so many antibiotics, she ended up being in a far worse situation," explained Martini.

She said her mom ended up with a massive fungus in her sinus. After treatments, Martini said an infectious disease specialist determined her mom had C. Diff which is an often fatal infection.

"Unfortunately, antibiotics are not benign things," said Doctor Donald Ford from Hillcrest Hospital. He wasn't the one who treated Martini's mother, but is a member of Better Health Greater Cleveland. He said that group and many other doctors have recognized the antibiotic issue is one of numerous concerns you need to talk to your doctors about.

"I can order a whole bunch of tests," explained Dr. Ford. "I can order...go down the list and check off every single thing. Is that going to be good for you? Is that going to help me get to the heart of what's going on with you?" he added.

I teamed up with Consumer Reports for a list of questions you need to ask your doctor before undergoing tests or screenings. Five of the On Your Side must ask questions include: 

What are you looking for?

What is the test likely to show?

What if it's positive?

What are my options?

Can we put this off? 

The Medical Director for Consumer Reports Dr. John Santa said there are many tests for which to watch out.  Imaging tests on back pain after a fall: "…even though we know 90 percent of the time people will be better in 4-6 weeks without doing much of anything," said Dr. Santa.

Ovarian cancer tests: "...sad to say that the blood test and the ultrasound for ovarian cancer, not a good test.  Sorry. We all wish that we had a good screening test for ovarian cancer. We don't," explained Dr. Santa.

Screenings for heart disease without major symptoms: "....the chances of those heart tests showing anything that's significant are very low. In fact, it's less than if they have a false positive," added Dr. Santa.

He went on to say that those are just some of the tests that are ordered but they shouldn't be.

"Unfortunately, some consumers and some physicians believe that any screening test must be good. And it's quite simply not," Dr. Santa told us.

However, some legal experts said caution is needed.

"Don't off-load the risk onto the patient," warned Cleveland attorney Tom Merriman from Team LGM. He told us no one should be against the elimination of un-needed tests, but you as a patient should examine who is behind those recommendations. Are insurance components involved?  

"If the doctors are saying that's an unnecessary test, I'm all in," Merriman said. "Let's just make sure that the people who are making these decisions are not people who are making it based upon their own bottom line," he added.

Consumer Reports released its findings that said these are three tests you or your loved ones should get: cervical cancer, colon cancer and breast cancer.

"Holding ourselves to a higher standard of evidence," said MetroHealth Medical Center's Dr. Randall Cebul, who is also the Director of Better Health Greater Cleveland. 

He said the American Board of Internal Medicine and 50 other medical societies agree that patient education is key.

And as part of Better Health's "Choosing Wisely" program , doctors are getting more informed about testing and treatments of such antibiotics.

"We really need to know more about both the side effects of the medications that we are prescribing as well as the evidence of the benefit should we prescribe them," Dr. Cebul told us.

After being prescribed all of her medications and having surgery, Martini's mom is doing fine but Martini hopes her mom's ordeal is a wake-up call for doctors and especially you as patients.

"In order to actively participate in making the best health care decisions for them," she added.

The On Your Side bottom line is: have an educated conversation with your doctor and don't be afraid of asking questions, Especially if your test falls on the "avoid" list from Consumer Reports, which we have more of in this section .

Print this article Back to Top