No one can deny that we have seen some marvelous medical/technological advances in our lifetimes, but when it comes to advancements in the medical field, are some doing more harm than good? In recent years, for example, has the amount of radiation being used on patients for diagnosis and treatment at appropriate levels? There is no doubt that CT scans and other tests can be lifesaving, but is radiation testing being over-prescribed to a point of danger? A number of new tests make diagnosing diseases easier; easy access to those tests means a doctor may be more likely to prescribe them. This may not always be the best medicine for the patient when the risk of too much radiation is factored in. The risk is growing; assuming that people are getting imaging tests far too often, risk of cancer is a consideration.
The Food and Drug Administration is taking a harder look at the evidence that medical radiation from tests has increased to dangerous levels. Individual tests may pose little risk, but an accumulation of radiation over time increases dosage. Consequences may not be experienced for years. And, while medical records track the ordered tests, they do not track the dosage; an added concern is that, with the exception of mammograms, there are no federal rules on radiation dose. That’s why FDA is pushing for the medical industry and doctors to set standard doses for common tests such as CT scans.
Which tests are overused? Why? Routine chest x-rays, tests on auto accident victims, and back x-rays for the elderly are the most common. Even when tests are justified, in many cases more views may be taken than necessary. Here are a few reasons why these tend to be overused:
· Accuracy and ease of use. Scans have become a crutch for doctors afraid of using exams and judgment to make a diagnosis. Some doctors believe a picture tells more than an exam.
· Malpractice fear. A missed diagnosis could be devastating for a patient and a means to a lawsuit for a doctor.
· Patient pressure. Patients urge doctors to “do something” to figure out what is wrong; what is causing the pain. Some doctors will order tests to demonstrate that they are doing something.
· Health care “red tape.” A specialist may order the same test previously performed because it is easier for him than to get the one done by someone else.
· Insurance. Insurance companies may require certain tests to prove health. In a profit-driven medical systems or where defensive medicine is practiced, studies show that patients are given more radiation-based tests. These tests could cause overexposure to radiation.
· Errors. High doses can be harmful of the beam isn’t accurately targeted. Patients can be overdosed when radiation testing equipment is not calibrated correctly or when the there is an error in inputting the dosage setting.
Remember that medicine is a for-profit business, both on the medical side and on the insurance side. When insurance companies limit reimbursment amounts for any given diagnosis, doctors will order a variety of tests that may provide greater reimbursement. The more tests doctors run, the more money they get paid. When extra tests are ordered, we all pay, in the form of increased premiums and increased taxes. Most patients don’t question the test being performed, nor do they directly see the bill for those tests. Since the insurance company is paying for the tests, we are less concerned about cost or frequency.
Defensive medicine, as stated above, is a practice that promotes increased testing to avoid potential liability. Over-testing decreases mistakes If a mistake is made in the diagnosis or treatment of a patient, and the doctor presents proof that certain tests were performed (whether necessary or not), he/she might appear ‘less negligent’. Meanwhile, patients are being overexposed to radiation and are overcharged in insurance and taxes.
What should patients do? Ask questions: What is the dosage? How many scans will I need? Why do I need it? What are my other options? How will it change/diagnose my condition? Tests that send heavy doses of radiation into your body, such as CT scans, should be questioned, especially to parts of the body where cancer is more frequently found, like the chest and abdomen. You may also request that the technician cover the parts of your body that will not be tested to avoid needless exposure to radiation.
Mark Bello has thirty-three years experience as a trial lawyer and twelve years as an underwriter and situational analyst in the lawsuit funding industry. He is the owner and founder of Lawsuit Financial Corporation which helps provide cash flow solutions and consulting when necessities of life funding is needed during litigation. Bello is a Justice Pac member of the American Association for Justice, Sustaining and Justice Pac member of the Michigan Association for Justice, Business Associate of the Florida, Tennessee, and Colorado Associations for Justice, a member of the American Bar Association, the State Bar of Michigan and the Injury Board.
Attorney, certified civil mediator, and award-winning author of the Zachary Blake Betrayal Series. Mark Bello is also a member of the State Bar of Michigan, a sustaining member of the Michigan Association for Justice, and a member of the American Association for Justice.