But that's not always true. According to a report from the National Physicians Alliance, some of the most frequently used tests and treatments often are unnecessary - and may be harmful. Even the common PSA test to detect prostate cancer has been under scrutiny for several years now.
Why do doctors order questionable tests and treatments? One reason is habit. Doctors tend to do the things the way they and their peers were taught in school even though new evidence shows that something isn't helpful. Also, many doctors practice "defensive medicine" to reduce the risk for lawsuits, assuming that a physician is unlikely to get sued for giving too much care.
Ask your doctor whether "all these tests" are really necessary and why.....
1. IMAGING FOR LOW BACK PAIN
Pain in the lower back is the fifth most common reason for doctor visits. Doctors routinely order a MRI of the lumbar spine when patients complain about back pain.
The problem: In the vast majority of cases, imaging tests are unnecessary. Low back pain typically clears up without treatment in about 5 to 7 weeks, much sooner with proper massage therapy.
Exceptions: MRIs or other imaging tests may be needed for severe low back pain that lasts more than 6 weeks or when the symptoms include fever, incontinence, numbness and tingling.
2. BLOOD TESTS/URINALYSIS
When you have an annual exam your doctor might order extensive blood and urine tests. A urine test is typically used to check for diabetes. Blood chemistry panels are used to screen for diseases of the kidneys, liver and parathyroid glands, among many other things.
The problem: These tests rarely reveal anything in patients without symptoms who are generally healthy - and they often lead to false-positives.
Exceptions: Patients with specific symptoms - such as a persistent fever or abdominal tenderness - probably will need blood testing to help look for a cause. A blood test also is recommended for checking molecules that contribute to thickening of artery walls - cholesterol, blood fat (triglycerides), LDL particle size, homocysteine, etc. Urinalysis can be used to identify diabetes in patients who already have symptoms, such as frequent urination and/or increased thirst. For extensive testing, ask why its being ordered.
3. CARDIOVASCULAR SCREENING
You do not need an annual EKG if you don't have symptoms of, or risk factors for, heart disease (such as smoking, diabetes or a strong family history of cardiovascular disease).
The problem: In patients without symptoms, an EKG rarely reveals useful information. A minor abnormality in the heartbeat can lead to further tests (echocardiogram or stress test) even though these abnormalities rarely are important.
4. EXCESSIVE FUNCTIONAL MEDICINE TESTING/SCREENING
It is too common that patients bring me a big stack of normal tests done by other alternative practitioners.
The problem: These people come in because they are still sick and are now frustrated that so much time and money has been wasted, because their provider did not know where to look. There are thousands of tests that may impress the patient initially, but patients usually don't know why they feel bad - they just want action, testing!
Patients often strongly request antibiotics to clear up postnasal drip, congestion or mild to moderate ear pain.
The problem: About 98% of sinus infections are caused by viruses whether the ears hurt or not. Even when a sinus infection is caused by bacteria, it usually will clear up without antibiotics if supportive measures are taken. This does not mean that one shouldn't look into the ears and throat to help make the right choice.
Exception: Antibiotics (with other supportive measures) should be considered if the sinus infection is severe, with high fever, severe pain, tenderness over the sinuses, or long-lasting ear pain that keeps a person from sleeping for recovery. Antibiotics also should be considered when the symptoms last for one week, improve briefly and then get worse - this may indicate that a bacterial infection has developed on top of the initial viral infection.
SUMMARY: Be thoughtful - don't panic.