Most medical tests the doctor orders for you are necessary to help diagnose your medical problem or determine a treatment’s progress.
Not every single test is necessary, though. Some would tell you that the reason there are so many tests is because doctors no longer trust their own diagnosing capabilities to assess a patient. Therefore, they rely too heavily on test results.
However, too often in healthcare, the more prevalent answer to this question is “follow the money.”
There are actually two ways money affects the amount of testing ordered for patients:
First, doctors are paid by insurance companies and Medicare for every patient they see according to why they see the patient and what procedures they perform.
Because insurance companies and Medicare limit the amount of money a doctor can be reimbursed for any given diagnosis and knowing that the real goal is always to stay in business and make money, doctors will often order a variety of tests – anything they think will be reimbursed for a patient.
More and more, these tests are being done right in the doctor’s office.
Those tests that we used to go to other testing labs for – blood tests, MRIs, EKGs, and others – are now handled even in primary care settings.
The more tests doctors run in their own offices, the more they get paid for, whether or not a patient really needs them. Since we patients are rarely paying directly for them, and since we don’t really understand why we need them, we don’t question them.
We just comply.
The second reason doctors order too many tests is called “defensive medicine.” Defensive medicine is the way doctors protect themselves from lawsuits. If some mistake is made in the diagnosis or treatment of a patient, and the doctor can show that certain tests were conducted (whether or not they were needed), the doctor can appear as if he was diligent enough to think of the many possibilities. In effect, he’s creating a paper trail to defend himself against the possibility that you will sue him later.